Through its Senior Home Repair and Housing Benefits Services
By Rona Gross
Home Benefits Coordinator
CHAI: Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc.
Framed in my office here at CHAI is a photograph of three purple crocuses breaking through the snow and ice-covered ground, the first sign of spring and all its potential. This picture is an apt metaphor for the life challenges of CHAI clients with disabilities. Often faced with environments that seem ill-suited for their needs and which present obstacles to realizing their potential, these individuals look to CHAI to assist them in chiseling away at the encroaching challenges and working to create a home environment in which they can flower.
CHAI currently serves individuals with physical disabilities, such as those resulting from progressive neurodegenerative disorders or other illnesses, accident, injury and trauma, as well as those living with blindness or deafness. We are assisting clients struggling with psychiatric disorders, including depression, anxiety, ADHD, and OCD as well as hoarding disorders. We also provide services to families with developmentally disabled adult children, suffering from Asperger’s or other conditions along the autistic spectrum, whose living situation is no longer workable or appropriate. At the present time, about 15 percent of vulnerable Senior Home Repair clients are non-elderly disabled or elderly individuals whose primary presenting problem is their disability as distinct from other age-related changes.
CHAI clients with disabilities usually are grappling with challenges in multiple areas of their lives simultaneously. The problem with which they come to us and which is in the forefront of our work often pertains to the suitability and safety of their home physical environment. At the same time, more often than not, they are attempting to meet these challenges within a context of significant financial constraint and often with cognitive and/or emotional responses that are counterproductive and cause further complications.
We assist individuals with disabilities in a number of ways. Through the SHR program, we provide home repairs, done by our own repairman or outside contractors. We may fix concrete to even out the walkway for a client with an MS-like illness or secure a handrail down to the basement for an individual whose disability includes an unsteady gait. We also provide home repairs unrelated to the disability with the goal of maintaining a home environment which is safe and in good condition.
We facilitate occupational therapy referrals and assist financially and practically in purchasing and installing safety equipment such as grab bars and hand-held showers. When a client’s condition has resulted in their being overwhelmed or confused regarding their bills and paperwork, we consider providing professional organization services. We offer assistive devices to enhance safety, such as reachers. One of our clients can now open her bathroom window using this device from the safety of the floor, rather than climb onto the edge of her bathtub. At times, we assist with appliance purchases, researching products that maximize our client’s access and independent usage.
Secondary to our work on the physical environment, we often need to become involved in some of the financial quandaries of individuals with disabilities. In assessing their eligibility for low income home modification programs, we often find that they have failed to take advantage of other government and private programs for which they may be eligible. At times, we assist them in application completion for these benefits as well.
Finally, we refer our clients with disabilities to the Baltimore Cash Campaign, Jewish Community Services, Ahavas Yisroel and Mesila for in-depth assistance with benefits eligibility, budgeting and related issues as well as financial assistance. At times, I have referred individuals to our Foreclosure Prevention Program, when their disabilities have resulted in their inability to pay their mortgage and the beginning of foreclosure proceedings on their home.
CHAI clients with disabilities – physical, psychiatric, and developmental – face a number of challenges in accessing, maintaining, affording and modifying their home environments to meet their needs. We work as their advocate, in the words of one professional, recognizing the disabilities, but emphasizing the possibilities.
Although the soil in which these clients have been planted often seems cold and unyielding, CHAI’s Senior Home Repair &Modification program strives to cultivate and maintain a safe and accessible haven where our clients can continue to blossom and grow.