People with significant special needs frequently encounter a variety of barriers to living independently, but Easterseals Southern California (ESSC) is committed to helping the people we serve to live, work and play in their communities.
Providing an intimate home setting for individuals with physical and/or developmental challenges – the majority of whom have lived most of their lives in a state facility – ESSC’s person-centered Residential Services nurture and promote individual choice in a home with support from trained Easterseals staff and other medical, therapeutic, behavioral, nutritional and recreational professionals.
While relegating people with special needs to institutional living was once the norm, such facilities today are being phased out and people relocated to suitable arrangements that provide a better quality of life.
“People get to move out of institutions for the first time in their lives and reside in a home of their own,” says Lupe Trevizo-Reinoso, VP of Living Options, ESSC. “They get to make personal choices, have homecooked meals, make friends, go out into the community, all with supervision to support behavioral and medical needs.
“Some clients were referred to us and had never communicated verbally with anyone until they moved into our homes and began saying words,” she continues. “Most were dropped off as children 40-50 years ago. Today they are living in the community. They have their own bedroom and a full-sized bed for the first time. Individuals learn to speak and engage with their housemates and staff. Suddenly, they are having conversations and signing. They’re making eye contact when we were told they couldn’t hear.
“When they arrive at their home for the first time, they lay on their bed and always fall asleep … some for 24 hours, Trevizo-Reinoso smiles. “It’s the first time they’ve had their own bedroom with four walls, no fluorescent light and without constant noise and movement all night.”
ESSC was the first organization in Southern California to launch a pilot program for community living more than 25 years ago. Today, ESSC has 22 Residential Living homes throughout the area, serving 75 people—and serves another 123 through Supported Living and Independent Living services.
“We have a 100% success rate,” says Trevizo-Reinoso proudly, noting that ESSC currently serves nearly 200 people, but that the program continues to expand with five new residential facilities having opened in 2018. “No client has ever asked to move out of our home to go back to the state hospital.”
While it takes patience and some time to help newcomers adjust “and become present in their lives for the first time,” says Trevizo-Reinoso, the support staff get back as much as they give as they watch the transformation. “Their personalities become alive and they develop interests and communicate them. They’re using iPads, cooking their meals, selecting their food. They visit restaurants and go shopping and dancing. They become friends with housemates and look out for each other. We have two men who go to USC football games and who help out their neighbors by watering their lawns.”
“Our individuals make great neighbors and there’s a real sense of community around these homes,” she continues. “Initially community members may be nervous, but when they meet our clients, they realize that they are gentle and friendly and don’t bother anyone … and frequently form friendships, inviting one another over or to holiday parties and BBQs.”
In fact, in addition to new friendships, Trevizo-Reinoso notes a variety of benefits that the homes bring to the community:
- Retrofitted and remodeled (inside and out) and nicely kept up, ESSC homes increase property values.
- There’s stability in the home and a community resources team on site. “Sometimes neighbors rush over if someone needs help or CPR,” she says. “Or ask the staff to keep an eye on their home, because they know we are staffed 24 hours.”
- Taxpayer savings. Community living costs a fraction of residing in a state-run facility, which can run several hundred thousand annually per person.
“I think that the other piece that’s critical is how reluctant family members or conservators have been to allow their family members to live in the community,” Trevizo-Reinoso shares. “They think the state hospital is the safest place and fight them coming to live with us … until they move into one of our homes and see the results. Then they become our strongest advocate for living in the community.”