Last night’s Town Hall in Miami focused on Housing and Residential Services, a continuation of the national series of Adult Services Town Halls, saw south Florida residents coming together to discuss the crucial issues faced by adults with autism. Despite the rainy Miami weather, about one hundred individuals, including self-advocates, families, service providers, and other members of the community engaged in a dynamic discussion about the real meaning of the word community, and the importance of having a cohesive group that becomes an active voice in the discussion about the creation of viable housing solutions for our loved ones with autism.
The evening began with an hour long Resource Fair, allowing attendees time to visit and speak with the fourteen local autism service providers in attendance. Providers included local universities and schools, along with therapy groups and others. Attendees were able to enjoy coffee and dessert while networking with and learning about local services available for their children.
Julie Salas, Executive Director for the South Florida Chapter of Autism Speaks, welcomed attendees and introduced Angela Lello, Autism Speaks’ Director of Housing Policy and Advocacy. Although Angela was unable to attend in person, she sent a video message, explaining that “our children have grown up, and recently, Autism Speaks has recognized that given the sheer number of children aging into adulthood, we need to focus on adult services and the needs of adults and their family caregivers.” Then, Maeghan Pawley, Manager of Community Outreach for the Southeast, went on to explain how Autism Speaks has and will continue to focus on adult services, working with communities for change. “Autism Speaks is working hard to support the expansion of housing and residential support options for adults with autism, to meet the overwhelming demand… we can be a very powerful voice for change when we all work together.”
Dr. Michael Alessandri, Executive Director of the Center for Autism & Related Disabilities (CARD) and the moderator for the evening, reiterated the importance of community and working together to create customized approaches to solving the housing and residential crisis facing many families affected by autism. The moderated panel discussion featured Dr. Thomas Whitehurst, advocate and parent of a child with autism; and experts from Sunrise Community, Inc. (Jo Lynne Mendez) and Noah’s Ark of Central Florida (Jack Kosik). The discussion briefly focused on the current services available in central and south Florida, but because of the few housing and residential supports available in the community, the emphasis was largely on how to create non-traditional ways to provide housing support for individuals with autism and their families.
Although the evening’s panel discussion started late, allowing individuals facing construction and weather-related delays to arrive without missing out, when the scheduled end time approached, the audience was asked to raise their hands if they were interested in continuing the discussion and running over on time—almost every hand in the room was raised. The question and answer portion of the evening became a brainstorming session for concerned parents and service providers, almost all of whom acknowledged that the evening’s event was worthwhile and they would like to continue the discussion with an additional Town Hall or workshop.
The evening closed with a discussion about the future of the Medicaid waiver program for Home- and Community-Based Services (HCBS). Although the preliminary plan has already been published, attendees were encouraged to sign-up for Autism Votes to stay up-to-date on all advocacy efforts, including the open period for commenting on the second draft of Florida’s Transition Plan. The evening came to a close with the reinforcement of the idea that the community, working together as one cohesive voice, will make a change.