Daily News – Housing for Disabled is Group’s Goal

The Freedom to Live Foundation, which aims to offer affordable housing for the disabled, was established in 1993 by registered nurse Mary Williams but has never been fully operational because of a lack of funding. But the group’s founder and CEO says there’s never been a more pressing need to finally get the Northridge-based nonprofit agency off the ground. Her goal is to create a program to complement New Start Homes Inc., a 25-year-old company that helps the disabled learn to live on their own.

Once the training process is over, Williams said, newly rehabilitated patients face a challenge in finding affordable housing that is accessible to the disabled. “Housing is the biggest barrier for a catastrophically disabled person to move out into the community,” Williams said. “You’ve got so many people who could live out there, but they’re just stuck in nursing homes because there’s not enough affordable housing in L.A.”

Through Freedom to Live, Williams hopes to buy an apartment complex where affordable housing could be provided to the disabled, many of whom have a Social Security Disability stipend as their only source of income. In an effort to raise $500,000 for the venture, Freedom to Live is organizing a fundraiser to be held in November, Williams said. In the meantime, Williams has negotiated with various landlords to lower rent on some units for her New Start clients.

One such client is Erik Gould Williams, who is not related to Mary, who was rendered a quadriplegic after a 1998 car accident severed his spinal cord. He was unable to find low-income housing that could accommodate his wheelchair and the $850-a-month stipend he receives from Social Security. “Most people, unless you reach some kind of (legal) settlement where you get a large chunk of money where you’re able to go buy a house, don’t have that opportunity,” he said. “And on top of that, I didn’t have any place to go that was accessible with a roll-in shower, lower counters, wider doors.” The landlord of his Canoga Park apartment was able to widen the doors and install a roll-in shower. But the kitchen counters are still too high and he needs someone to help him reach them.

“Ultimately, it’s to be as independent as you were before. If you have a high counter and you can’t reach the counter, you’re not independent,” said Erik Williams, who graduated last year from California State University, Northridge, with a degree in television production. “The challenge is, when I’m ready to move into a bigger place, there’s not a lot of places out there that are accessible.” Nationwide, there are 12,000 new cases involving spinal cord injury each year, according to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center. Nearly 89 percent of patients are discharged from the hospital to a private, non-institutional residence, such as their homes, and almost 5 percent are discharged to nursing homes. It’s becoming even harder to find housing, Mary Williams said.

“For years and years, none of my clients have been able to get housing – even if it’s lower-income housing,” she said. “If we’re going to help them have quality of life, then the freedom of living in the community is what’s needed.” One of her current clients, Robbie Leonard, who has been in a wheelchair since he was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy at age 12, has been eager to move out on his own. Leonard, a 25-year-old graphic design student at Pierce College, has lived at a New Start home in Woodland Hills for the last two years. A place of his own would not only help him get better care from his own nurse, but allow him to focus on finishing his education, he said.

“This would help get us going with our futures, help get us on our feet so we can go from there,” he said of Freedom to Live. “I feel like I haven’t quite lived as much as I possibly could. The more independent you are, the more you actually feel like a part of the community.” For more information, call 818-403-5656 or visit www.FreedomtoLive.org

  • From The Daily News, 2010

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