The Doc Project·Point of View

Think finding housing is hard? Try adding a wheelchair

Sean Towgood has cerebral palsy and has been on a supportive housing waitlist for four years. He's desperate to start his adult life, but has no idea when, or if, he'll get his own place.

Sean Towgood has cerebral palsy and has been on a supportive housing waitlist for 4 years

Sean Towgood, 26, at the Whitby GO station. (Emilie Quesnel/CBC)
Listen to the full episode30:34

Sean Towgood, special to CBC Radio

The sun isn't up yet, but I am. I need to catch a GO train into Toronto. And as my mom drives me to the station, I wish for the millionth time that I just lived in the city already — the city where I currently work, and where I want to build my life.  

I'm 26 years old, and I still live with my mom in Whitby, an hour away. I want to move out and get a place of my own. But I have cerebral palsy. To live independently, I have to find a building with 24-hour onsite personal support workers.  

I've been on a waiting list for supportive housing for four years now. And I have no idea where I am on that list… or if I'll ever get off of it. 

Crowded house

It's hard to feel like a real adult when I still have to wait for my mother to put me to bed. Besides, space is getting tight at my mom's place. As well as the two of us, there's my dog Hugo, my aunt and her cat, and my grandma. 

Sean Towgood lives at his mom's house with puggle Hugo. (Emilie Quesnel/CBC)

Currently, my mom is my lifeline. She gets me out of bed in the morning, prepares my food, showers me, clothes me, gets me into bed at night. But it's not fair that this burden is still placed on her. And I have no idea when — if ever — things will change for either of us.

Having recently graduated from radio school, my best chances of getting a job are in Toronto. Most of the things I like to do and most of my friends are in the city. For me, moving out of my family's house and having a space of my own would do wonders for my confidence and sense of autonomy. 

Sean Towgood's daily commute. (Emilie Quesnel/CBC)

But if you're a person with a disability who's in need of supportive housing, like me, it's not as simple as finding a place, having them run a credit check and — Bingo! — You're in. Granted, in today's financial climate, it's not that simple for anyone.  

But I'll give you a sense of what it's like for people like me. 

Waiting game

Supportive housing services do exist, but they're not exactly easy to find out about. My mom and I, for instance, happened to stumble upon them online. While looking for residential support for school, we came across the Centre for Independent Living Toronto, or CILT.

Through them, I applied for supportive housing with the Attendant Services Application Centre, a program administered by CILT. They manage the waitlist I'm on, but don't provide the housing themselves. They work with other service providers to get me what I need.

"I'm lucky to have her," Sean Towgood says of his mom, Joanne Latimer. (Emilie Quesnel/CBC)

The ASAC application lists 23 supported housing buildings in Toronto that, with my specific disability, I would be eligible for. My mom and I filled out an application where we selected which out of those 23 places we thought were suitable.

It's been a waiting game since then, with no clear indication of where I am on that list or how long it will be before I can move into an assisted living situation.    

When I asked CILT to provide some clarity, they wrote back, "There is a pool of applicants who meet the basic criteria. Applicants within that pool are contacted by the service providers for vacancy interviews.

"If you are on the ASAC waitlist, there is no fixed position on the waitlist. Vacancies come up within service provider buildings and each vacancy has unique criteria that cannot be predicted." 

Sean Towgood's current living situation is getting cramped. (Emilie Quesnel/CBC)

Though I understand these circumstances, it doesn't mean I'm okay with them. The way things are now, my life is totally on hold. Take my career.

In the field I'm in, media, oftentimes one has to start their career in what is called a "small market" town. One is expected to apply everywhere, get a bite in a remote town in another province, hop on a plane and work their way into a job in a bigger market. 

In order for me to do this — if, remarkably, there was any way I could live independently in a supportive unit in a small market town — I'd have to throw my four years on the Toronto waitlist out the window. 

Plants jostle for space in Sean Towgood's mom's house. (Emilie Quesnel/CBC)

Living the dream

Until recently, I was starting to lose hope. But then I met Adam Cohoon. He's a disability advocate and artist living in Toronto.

Like me, Adam was on the ASAC waitlist. But unlike me, he now lives in Toronto's Pan American Athletes' Village, in a fully accessible unit built specifically to accommodate the athletes of the 2015 Parapan American Games.

Adam lives next door to his wife, Jennifer, who also has a disability. 

Adam Cohoon (left) and his wife, Jennifer, show Sean Towgood what accessible housing looks like. They live in apartments built for the 2015 Para-PanAm Games. (Jess Shane/CBC)
The bedroom in Adam Cohoon's apartment is equipped with a ceiling lift. (Jess Shane/CBC)

Hearing Adam talk, it's like he's literally living my dream. "Independent living lets you create your own lifestyle. You get to do what you want. You are deciding how late you want to eat, how late you want to stay up. You're not governed by people treating you like a little kid."  

Sean Towgood and Adam Cohoon breeze through the wide doorways of an accessible apartment. (Jess Shane/CBC)

A self-professed "road warrior," Adam tells me that he can travel from one end of downtown Toronto to the other in his wheelchair. He loves the energy of the city.

So do I. 

Meeting Adam gave me a glimpse of the life I'm longing for, and a sense of how crucial a spot in supportive housing will be to my future.

I haven't found a place yet, but I've now seen what's behind the locked door. 

And I'll keep fighting to get in. 

To hear the full documentary, tap or click the Listen link at the top of this page. 

About the Producer 
(Althea Manasan/CBC)

Sean Towgood is a radio maker, disability advocate, actor, sports fan, and CBC Radio intern.

This documentary was produced with Jess Shane and edited by Julia Pagel.


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