'That was my dream': One Islander's lifelong quest to live independently

Janet Charchuk had always dreamed of living alone, but when the P.E.I. woman started her journey there were no supports for Islanders with intellectual disabilities in Alberton. So she took things into her own hands.

The difficulty in finding housing when you have an intellectual disability

Jackie and Janet Charchuck sit in Janet's living room in Alberton, P.E.I. Janet always hoped she would be able to live alone. (Travis Kingdon/CBC)

For many people, finding your first home or first apartment is a big deal. After many years of living with parents or roommates, it's finally a place to call your own. 

For Janet Charchuk, it was an even bigger deal. Being able to live alone where she wants to has been something she's been working toward her entire life. 

Charchuk, 37, lives with an intellectual disability — Down syndrome. 

Up until 2010, she was living with her parents. She was looking for more independence but wanted to stay in the Alberton area of Prince Edward Island. 

"That was my dream. I always wanted to be able to live on my own," said Charchuk. 

But at that time there was no housing in Alberton that would provide the necessary supports. And she was reluctant to move to a place where those housing supports existed. 

"My connections are really here. My mom and my dad, they live in Montrose, and if I were to move to Charlottetown, I won't be able to see them as often. And living in Alberton is a little bit closer to than Charlottetown. And I do have friends here in Alberton as well," she said. 

Janet Charchuk says it was important for her to stay in her community to be closer to family and friends. (Travis Kingdon/CBC)

Residential services sought

Then along came Alberton House. Built in 2010 and run by Community Inclusions, it provides transitional housing units and longer-term housing supports for Islanders living with intellectual disabilities in western P.E.I.

"I think at that time there was 46 people in the area that we identified that may need residential services," said Kevin Porter, executive director of Community Inclusions.

The goal was to make sure they did not have to leave their community for housing. And to ensure a good fit, they were involved from the start. 

"If you're going to be planning something, you need to involve whoever those user groups are going to be. So we had community people, we had parents, we had input from self-advocates," said Porter. 

One of those "self-advocates" was Janet Charchuk. Her mother, Jackie, also sits on the board of the organization.

As a step to living alone, Charchuk had a critical role in the development of Alberton House. She successfully requested that Alberton Town Council rezone the land to allow for the housing to be built, and secured donations from the Rotary Club of Summerside. 

People in West Prince should not have to leave their community for housing, says Kevin Porter, executive director of Community Inclusions. (Travis Kingdon/CBC)

"I actually feel pretty proud. And at the same time, I also felt like I made a real difference for people. And I want to make that difference," she said. 

After Alberton House was built, Charchuk was one of the first tenants to move in. Living there for six years was a good experience, she said, giving her the tools and skills needed to live alone eventually. But she soon decided it was time for a change.

Now living independently 

So, she decided to go to a local apartment building and put her name on the list. That came as a surprise to her mother, who was out of province at the time. 

"I think from the very beginning, Janet always surprised us and amazed us. And she's very determined and hard-working and capable. And those are the things that I saw as she was growing up," said Jackie Charchuk.   

Alberton House has no signs or markings letting people know that it's housing for people who have intellectual disabilities. Kevin Porter, executive director of Community Inclusions, said they wanted the home to just be another part of the community. (Travis Kingdon/CBC)

"I was a bit surprised, but when I thought about it, no, that just fits right in," she said. 

Now that Janet is living alone, both she and her mother are extremely proud of the work done in the area. And Janet Charchuk said she hopes people take two things away from her journey. 

"You have to start off slowly… If you need to live somewhere to get supports first, I think they should do that and to be able to learn life skills so they can live on their own. If they can't, then that's a whole different ball game," she said. 

The most important thing, in her opinion? 

"That they have the right to choose where they live." 

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