ELIZABETH – The members and staff of Community Access Unlimited applauded a state plan to provide people with disabilities and/or their families an annual stipend to help pay for the cost of providing services. New Jersey has proposed the $10,000 to $15,000 stipend in light of the state’s inability to provide people with disabilities sufficient access to community living, as required by law.
Under the Olmstead Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act requires states to enable people with intellectual disabilities to live in community settings rather than institutions. Yet the state houses 2,800 residents in developmental centers while another 10,000 residents are on a waiting list seeking community housing, many living at home with family.
CAU provides support and services to people with disabilities and at-risk youth. Among those services is CAU’s Community Support Program (CSP), which provides in-home support services to people with special needs on a fee-for-services basis. CAU staff work with members to provide a personalized assessment of their skills and needs and design a service plan to fit that assessment.
“CSP is perfect for people who want to live independently or remain in a caring family environment and simply need some assistance,” said Paul LaMaine, assistant executive director of CAU who oversees the program. “We design a service plan that fits their needs, budget and situation and provide support in a familiar and comfortable surrounding.
“We believe that all people should live within the community, where they can socialize, contribute to society and attain the greatest level of personal self-worth. CSP helps many of our members live independent and fulfilled lives.”
CSP services include: counseling; in-home instruction; life skills assessment and training; independent living skills training; employment assistance; money management; social and recreational activities; respite; and connection to community resources. Members contract for as few or as many hours of support as they require. Currently 32 CAU members receive CSP services, from one-half hour per week to 48 hours per month.
People who qualify for the program include people with disabilities receiving services from the state Department of Developmental Disabilities or waiting for those services; youth receiving services from the Division of Youth and Family Services; people with physical disabilities; people with emotional and/or mental health challenges; people with special needs; and their families.
Glen Wilkes has been a member of CAU and CSP for more than 20 years, receiving a half-hour of support each week. CAU provides counseling, helped him secure social security income, state rental assistance and employment and the agency does his taxes. He lives in an apartment with another member of CAU and works at the agency.
“They help me with my rent,” he said. “They furnished the apartment for me. They helped me get social security. And they offer recreational events. They help me keep an eye on the apartment and I’m grateful for that.”
Wilkes lived with his parents and came to CAU after they passed away. He loves living independently and admits life would be tougher without the support he receives from CAU.
Lyman Thompson has been a CAU and CSP member for 25 years, also receiving a half-hour of support each week. CAU provides counseling, money management assistance and recreational opportunities. He lives in an apartment with another CAU member and is a full-time employee of the Roselle Park Department of Public Works. He pays for his CSP services himself.
“CAU got me doing my banking on my own,” he said. “I do a lot of cooking for my roommate and I keep the apartment nice and clean.”
Prior to joining CAU and enrolling in CSP Thompson lived with his father, who began looking for assistance for his son after the loss of his wife. Thompson is very proud of living independently and does not know what he would do without CAU and CSP.
“Not only for me but for all the members, I don’t know what we would do,” he said. “They are there to help you.”
A state stipend would greatly benefit both Wilkes and Thompson, allowing them to pay for perhaps more CSP services and also assisting in their daily lives in other ways, according to LaMaine.
“Every day we read stories in the media about families wanting a better life for their loved ones with special needs, wanting them to live in the community where they can flourish, or worrying about what will happen to them when their families are no longer able to care for them,” he said. “Programs like CSP help people with special needs live more fulfilled lives and help their families breathe more easily.
“Ten thousand people are waiting for that and one is too many. Programs like these can change lives.”
Lyman Thompson receives a half-hour of support service each week from Community Access Unlimited through the agency’s Community Support Program, which helps people with disabilities live independently in the community. (Photo credit: Community Access Unlimited)
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