The most recent Autism Speaks sponsored Town Hall on Adult Services Wednesday night brought together Southern California families, along with community professionals, service providers and community leaders, all of whom want to raise awareness and create new housing and residential support opportunities for adults with autism and developmental disabilities.
To get started, the audience was asked to give feedback and examples of their needs and the goals they hope to accomplish. Echoed was the disappointing lack of housing choices and funding for subsidized housing in Orange County. Rather than be discouraged and passive, the panel encouraged a unified approach by people with autism, families, service providers, nonprofit builders, banks and legislators in order to make changes. The moderator, Cathy Brock, Executive Director of the Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders, inspired as she set the tone of on how we need to join together to create change. She then introduced the panel featured experts:
- Fran Solmor, Esq., Attorney, Special Needs Trusts
- Nancy Donnelly, City of Irvine Land Trust, Secretary
- Lauren Gavshon, PhD, Clinical Psychologist and Director of Clinical Services for Jewish Federation & Family Services
- Lou Correa, California State Senator 34th District
Each panelist offered his or her ideas and continued to encourage that we all work together to make change happen. A number of people in the audience felt like advocacy groups, such as Autism Speaks can shine a national spotlight on our housing crisis. Attending the Orange County Walk on Dec. 7th is a first step to a united front. Senator Correa, a tireless champion for our cause, explained the importance of creating a statewide awareness. He offered practical advice on how to navigate the political waters in Sacramento, given the current political and economic climate for needed services. Encouragement was given also to build awareness at a county and city level. Many of the past government programs are no longer available, including Section 8 vouchers.
A goal was set to get at least 5,000 registered Orange County voters to sign petitions supporting the need to create housing options for adults with autism. A second goal was to use the Irvine Task Force as a model to create housing task forces in every city in Orange County.
Panelist agreed that we are not dealing with a housing problem – but a full-blown housing crisis. If we can generate awareness of this housing crisis at the national, state and local levels, we can make progress toward building communities for our adults with autism and other developmental disabilities.
Panelist Fran Solmor summed up our evening with a personal and powerful statement::
I am here tonight because like all of you who are parents, I go to bed every night worrying about where our daughter will live when we are no longer around. My greatest concern is this: will Sarah have a home and a community to live in? Right now, the answer is that there are very few options. Our job is to fix that problem.
As the evening ended, everyone felt both inspired and connected. Now, time to get busy with the tasks at hand!
All attendees received flyers about the Autism Speaks Housing and Residential Supports Tool Kit. Additionally, all received materials describing details related to housing funding in California and Medicaid state-specific information about changes in HCBS waiver.
Learn more about the Autism Speaks Town Halls on Adult Services series here!