Segregation, congregation may be easier, but do not foster strong, healthy community

In response to this article, Director of apartment complex for disabled clarifies his vision ….

I have been in the “community building business” for almost 30 years, and what I know for sure is that, as soon as we start setting people apart because of real or perceived differences, we are setting our community up for pain and failure. This project sounds great, until we see that, of the development’s 70 units, 28 may very well be filled by people who live with developmental disabilities.

I heard yesterday that our local City Council is talking about a new housing development that will see seniors and chronically ill people in one section, and single moms and children in the other. My question is this: what message will these tenants receive? For example, seniors and chronically ill people might well perceive themselves as being of no further use, waiting to die, a burden, while the children … especially the boys … might very well grow up thinking that there is no need for positive male role models, or that all men are bad and not to be trusted.

Why must we see solutions in terms of who has what characteristic, how dire is their housing or care need, and how many people with these characteristics can we corral in one location? Wouldn’t we be better off to bring together a diverse group of people who have many and varied gifts to contribute to their neighbours and community? Each caring for and about one another, contributing in their own unique way?

Most people who start looking into segregated or congregated housing options have good intentions about providing for people who have housing and care challenges. And sometimes these housing options work … at least for a while … at least for some people.

But, having been part of the ABCD (Asset-Based Community Development) movement since 1989, I can honestly say this …. I believe that our strongest, healthiest community will emerge when all citizens … in all of our diversity of gender, age, education, ethnicity, sexual orientation, colour, marital or parental status, religion, income level, and, yes, ability (etc.) … find true belonging … where each person‘s strengths, gifts and capacities are recognized, meaningfully contributed, and welcomed, and where each person enjoys reciprocity, safety, security, and knows others and is, in turn, known.

A truly strong, healthy community simply cannot fully emerge when people are set apart, feel little or no sense of belonging, and receive the message that they have little to nothing worthwhile to contribute. (I know from personal experience that even a dying person has gifts to impart, right up to their last breath!)

This is the risk we take when we resort to housing and personal supports that fill a gap, are easier to accomplish than the ideal, or fill a temporary need.

Building a strong, healthy community is not easy … it is hard work … often years or decades in the making. (In our own family, our daughter was 10 years old when she first told us, in her own way, that she wanted to live on her own … she was 25 when she moved out of our home; she is 33 now; and we continue to seek the ideal life for her. This is definitely a journey, not a destination!)

Here is a link to a conversation I listened in on yesterday (25-July-2017) … with my mentor, John McKnight, his protégé, Peter Block, and a community animator from Dublin, Cormac Russell. I find these conversations deeply stimulating and validating. 🙂

I’d love to see our local City Council, and our many and varied citizens, having animated conversation about all of this on a regular basis. It’s in having these important conversations that seeds of change are sown, germinated and, ultimately, harvested.

Linda Doran Viscardis’s life was irrevocably changed when, in 1989, she had the privilege to attend a talk by world-renowned community developer, John McKnight. She learned, that day, that her then five-year-old daughter, who lives with multiple disabilities, would never enjoy a good life without the benefit of strong, healthy community surrounding her, accepting her and welcoming her, and recognizing her many gifts and strengths and capacities. That day, Linda began her journey to build the best possible life for her daughter and her younger brother. What she has learned on her journey colours every single thing she puts her heart, her mind and her hand to. To find out what she is doing to foster an amazing life for her now 33-year-old daughter, visit her Facebook page or email her at StrongHealthyCommunity@sympatico.ca. 

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