Published in Warrandyte Diary
Warren O’Brien is a gifted artist. His paintings often feature abstract views through motifs of arched windows. His works are described as “complex and rhythmic, with layers of radiant colour and illusions of depth and texture”. They feature regularly at the Melbourne Arts Fair and adorn signal boxes within Manningham. The Doncaster East resident is also intellectually disabled.
Although he lives an active life and contributes to our community, Warren lives with his parents and is dependent on the support structures available within the city of Manningham. He is highly social and enjoys the friendships he has formed close to home.
As he is unable to be entirely self-sufficient, his mother Anita is worried about what will happen to Warren as his parents age. It is likely that he would have to be placed in community housing wherever it becomes available, leaving behind the support networks and familiarity of home. History has shown that intellectually disabled people who live well-functioning lives surrounded by friends, experience high levels of trauma when removed from support networks.
The future of Warren and others like him are at the core of an ambitious new organisation, Manningham Inclusive Community Housing (MICH), a not-for-profit initiative run by volunteers, which is trying to address this housing issue. According to committee member Gail Dick, “We believe that a ‘home’ is not just a house in which you live. A home includes the people with whom you live and the community within which you have chosen to live.”
But for intellectually disabled residents of Manningham, accessible accommodation is hard to come by. “We want to offer intellectually disabled people, the same opportunities for sustainable accommodation that are available to typical citizens,” says Gail.
MICH was formed to try and provide appropriate, inclusive housing for Manningham residents with an intellectual disability, and with varying degrees of disability. It is founded on the premise that “a sense of belonging can be found when home is in a community where you find connection to people and places, and are able to participate and contribute.”
The MICH model is intended to provide assisted accommodation for people requiring varied levels of support. Shared housing would include room for attendant carers and would reflect the level of disability, as well as common interests of housemates. “Intellectually disabled young adults want the same things as other young adults: to feel comfortable in their surroundings and enjoy a sense of belonging among other people with similar interests,” explains Gail.
MICH is aiming high and exploring avenues for community partnerships with Manningham Council, community housing providers, support service providers, government agencies and other organizations with a view to accommodate individual needs for the intellectually disabled among us. With over forty people currently identified as “urgently requiring accommodation”, the MICH committee already has its hands full trying to meet the demand.
Gail says: “We believe we will have some exciting and innovative projects which meet the criteria. The principal challenge now is to secure funding.” With appropriate community housing identified within Manningham, MICH is actively looking for sponsors to make the ideal of young, intellectually disabled people, living in an environment surrounded by their friends, a reality.
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