How this Caledon mother found a home for her daughter with a disability

Patricia Franks and her daughter, Gabi, gaze out the window on the third floor of a house nestled in a corner of Caledon, Ont. The electricity isn’t wired yet and the drywall still dusts their clothes during the walk-through.

Despite this, the joy on Gabi’s face is palpable. “Why do you want to live here?” asks Patricia.

“To be independent,” Gabi exclaims.

That independence is the reason Patricia partnered with a charity that started an initiative to create supportive housing using under-utilized properties.

Gabi, 30, is preparing to live on her own for the first time. She was born with a developmental disability similar to Down Syndrome and her mother is her primary caregiver.

Patricia, chair of Caledon Area Families for Inclusion Housing (CAFFI), knew there was a lack of affordable housing in the area, especially for people who need support.

“In big cities, there are more opportunities because there’s a much larger rental pool,” she says. “In small communities, that doesn’t exist.”

Affordable housing

In searching for an appropriate home for her daughter, CAFFI Housing partnered with Raising the Roof, a charity dedicated to ending homelessness to launch a program focused on turning vacant properties into shared housing for vulnerable people.

Raising the Roof’s new Reside program partners with organizations across the province to address specific needs in each community.

In Caledon, Ont., the house will eventually be shared by three people living with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including Gabi, and a live-in support worker.

“It’s really to sharpen up those independent living skills,” says Elisa Traficante, interim CEO of Raising the Roof. “[The worker] provides a safety net.”

‘When I’m still around’

For Gabi, moving into the house is a chance to take care of herself, even if it’s just 10 minutes from her mom.

“I’m happy and excited,” she says.

For Patricia, 60, it’s also preparing her daughter for when she’s no longer able to look after her.

“When we have to have our own place it helps us grow up and mature. I want to give her that opportunity when I’m still around to support her.”

The supportive housing arrangement also offers a break for the parents; taking care of Gabi meant Patricia didn’t have time to pursue her own interests.

“It’ll be nice for me to have a little less day-to-day stress,” she says. She also hopes the independence Gabi gains will allow them to have more of a friendship.

Community hub

Gabi will live in a home on a heritage property that was formerly a church. It sat vacant for the last 19 years.

When work started in late 2018, builders discovered it was filled with raccoons, there was evidence of squatters and vandalism. The property had become a “liability” to the community.

Traficante hopes the project will revitalize the area once it’s completed in November.

“It’ll be more of a community hub,” she says.

‘Wraparound support’

The Caledon home is one of the first two projects taking shape under th. Raising the Roof is working with Eva’s Initiatives for Homeless Youth on a home in North York for at-risk youth.

“It’s really that wraparound support, so we need that housing as the first step,” Traficante says.

Construction on both homes cost about $500,000. The projects have a variety of private and corporate donors, including the City of Toronto and the Region of Peel.

Rent is about $440 a month, which will go toward new projects.

The program coordinators for Reside are aiming to build 10 homes in the next 10 years.

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