New Brunswick

Welcome home: People with dual disabilities try freedom of apartment life

A Saint John agency has begun a new division to fill a gap in the residential-home system for people with intellectual and dual disabilities.

Key Industries' Welcome Home service places its first resident

In one room of the east Saint John apartment, stuffed animals sit on the tenant's electric hospital bed. The apartment is specifically designed for those with intellectual disabilities. (Joseph Tunney/CBC)

With a view of Saint John's east side, Peter Meredith sits on the leather couch in an apartment he and his team recently renovated.

In the next room, stuffed animals litter a hospital bed.

While Meredith works at Key Industries, which provides services for those with intellectual and physical disabilities, the 33-year-old has his own mission: finding homes for clients who require high-level care but crave a sense of independence.

It's part of the agency's new initiative to provide residential services designed for the people it works with.

"The current residential services in town are great," said Meredith, who runs the program. "But some people's needs are just so complex. Whether they need 24-hour care and companionship or a high level of medical interventions, there really wasn't a place in town that offered those services."

"We noticed in our regular day-to-day, there were certain individuals falling through the care gap."

New to Saint John

As far as Meredith knows, those with intellectual disabilities and those who also have physical disabilities, were always the "exception" and never had a system tailored specifically to their needs.

Not only only does he believe this kind of program is new to Saint John, he thinks it's also new to the province.

"Generally, people fit very comfortably within the already existing services. We wanted to address those who didn't."

Welcome Home Residential Home Services, the division of Key Industries running the program, placed its first resident earlier this month. However, more placements are planned throughout the city in the coming months.

He said people who want to seek out this program don't need to have worked with Key Industries.

Ideal for those with disabilities

Peter Meredith, who runs the Key Industries housing initiative, said he wants those who live in the apartments to feel a strong sense of independence. (Joseph Tunney/CBC)

The apartment is great for someone who also has physical disabilities, Meredith said, because it's all one level, has an open-concept living room and its bathtub, bed and shower are completely accessible.

Likewise, a spare bedroom is fully furnished so family or Key Industry staff members can stay in shifts to keep the resident company.

Meredith said the hope is this new system will allow family members to relax.

"Families out there wear many hats," he said. "They also have to take on a nursing role almost and be a care provider. That can be very difficult."

The manager hopes that with residents receiving the proper amount of care, families won't need to act like caregivers as often.

Sense of independence

One of the most important goals of the new program, Meredith said, is simple: to make these apartments feel like homes.

'Generally, people fit very comfortably within the already existing services,' Meredith says. 'We wanted to address those who didn’t.' (Joseph Tunney/CBC)

"We want to make it feel just as much as when you or I moved out to our first apartment or first house."

While a caretaker is always present, the theme of the apartments is still about freedom and dignity.

The mother of the man placed in the first apartment did not want to be interviewed, citing privacy concerns. But Meredith said the feedback he has received has been positive.

"The parents have really expressed that they feel their child is happy here, comfortable here and their child feels like this is their own place. They can be independent here."