Housing the Autism Community

Written by Hayley Gislason

Todd* is 27 and has autism and social and communication deficits. He is unable to work or be involved in his community. Todd lives at home with his parents, who are both in their 60s, and requires supports for day-to-day living. Todd’s parents are increasingly worried about his future housing situation.

The reality is Todd is one of 20,000 Calgarians who have autism or a related disability. An estimated 87 percent live at home with parents and 85 percent are unemployed and cannot afford market housing. With aging parents who cannot look after them indefinitely, these individuals are at high risk of becoming homeless.

Part of the issue is Calgary is lagging behind other major cities in Canada in providing adequate affordable housing stock. Our city requires 15,000 new units just to get to the average of other large Canadian cities. In response, the Community Housing Affordability Collective (CHAC) identified a goal and common vision for Calgary’s housing sector of 15,000 new affordable rental units over the next ten years.

Bill Locke, president of Capacity Builders, would like to see 500 of these affordable housing units allocated for persons with autism and related disabilities. The idea received a groundswell of support, with several partners representing all levels of government, the autism community, the affordable housing sector and academia in talks to find solutions on behalf of the whole community through collaborative efforts.

“This initiative is the first of its kind in Canada,” says Locke. “But we know that there is a need across the country because we received several letters of support from national autism groups. There is no road map for this, but we’re looking to create a model of collaboration and success to demonstrate to other cities.”

A key success factor to preventing homelessness for persons with autism is understanding the need. Autism Calgary, an association representing the autistic community, is currently working with an array of stakeholders and academic partners on research around persons with autism and other disabilities in Calgary. The work will look at participants’ current housing situations and their future housing needs.

The prevalence of autism is reaching unprecedented levels. “The Public Health Agency of Canada identified that 1 in 66 children are now being diagnosed,” reports Lyndon Parakin, Executive Director for Autism Calgary. “This is reflected in the growing calls from parents to our family support team, seeking help to address an urgent housing crisis that is putting the health and well-being of their family at risk.”

The solution is likely to require a variety of different models of affordable housing. Some individuals are high-functioning and can look after their day-to-day needs like meal prep and transportation. They would welcome a place either on their own or around others with similar needs and interests. Meanwhile, others have a higher degree of dependency and may require access to 24/7 supports in addition to housing.

While there is lots of work to do, the right stakeholders are at the table and ready and willing to ensure the 500-unit goal is met. CHAC and its members are excited to move forward as partners in addressing the housing needs for Calgary’s autism community.

For more information on this initiative, please contact Bill Locke at Bill@capacitybuilders.org 

*Name has been changed.