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Windsor mom struggling to find housing for son with disabilities amid long waitlists and high costs

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Time is running out for a Windsor mother to find a new home for her son — but long waitlists and high costs associated with social supports for people with intellectual disabilities have left her exhausted and anxious 24/7.

Sheri Raley's 20-year-old son, Ryan, has autism, epilepsy and the cognitive ability of a three-year-old.

He's currently part of an in-school support program where he has two educational assistants with him throughout the day. His mother cares for him at home in the evening.

Once he graduates in June, Raley said that all has to change.

"He's very violent. This has become an issue at home with the whole family because he doesn't designate who he is violent with. He doesn't pick and choose," said Raley.

Instead, Raley is hoping to find single-dwelling housing for him.

"Communal living is not an option for him because of the violence. He can't be in a shared dwelling. So it narrows his options when it comes to homing him," she said.

But finding a home for Ryan comes with a waitlist that Raley describes as "extreme."

Multiple advocates tell CTV News it can take more than 20 years for someone with a disability to secure supportive housing through Developmental Services Ontario (DSO).

According to Raley, her son would be given "priority status" — but that doesn't mean he would be able to secure a place to live anytime this year.

"It's two to five years and that's with him being a priority. I don't know what to do. I have to work and provide a living," said Raley, adding she also has another child to care for.

According to Raley, her son receives $32,000 in disability assistance from the government — which averages $87 a day. She is currently trying to increase that amount.

"When you're paying someone 20 to 25 dollars an hour to care for your child, it has to be someone experienced in seizures, CPR, the whole bit," said Raley. "So the money doesn't go far."

According to Anthony Frisina, a representative for the Ontario Disability Coalition, most services geared toward people with disabilities often operate on lengthy waitlists.

Anthony Frisina, a representative for the Ontario Disability Coalition, spoke with CTV News via Zoom on Feb. 27, 2024. (Sanjay Maru/CTV News Windsor)

That delay, he added, can significantly hamper quality of life — not just for individuals but for their families as well.

"If we continue with this waitlist approach, and not have the amount of medical professionals available to provide that care, we're doing a disservice to people with disabilities as a whole," said Frisina.

Frisina added he hears stories from families "far too often" about a loved one with a disability not being able to meet their basic needs because of a lack of social supports.

"One of the biggest things we need to do is eradicate the attitudinal barriers for people with disabilities," he said, referring to the attitude as a mindset of "this is what you have so be grateful for it."

"People with disabilities are more so fighting for what we deserve," said Frisina.

Raley's search for a day program that will accept her son has also come with some challenges. Because of his violent tendencies, Raley's son requires one-to-one care.

At one provider of day programming for people with intellectual disabilities in Windsor, Raley said it would cost around $180 a day.

Another provider of similar programming tells CTV News they do not have enough staff to accommodate the needs of their clients and they are on the brink in terms of physical space and operational funding.

"I'm tired of it. I've had enough. I know there are many like me in this situation, in far worse situations as well. It needs to be brought to the government's attention," Raley added.

In a statement to CTV News, Ontario's Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services said it cannot comment on individual cases.

"Our government continues to make investments in Developmental Services. In 2023-24 the province is investing about $3.4 billion for developmental services, an increase of $1.09 billion from 2017-18," an email from the ministry reads.

"Through this funding, the ministry helps provide a range of supports and services for adults with developmental disabilities with those determined to be most at risk prioritized for available resources."

The ministry added local DSO offices collaborate with a "network of developmental services agencies and community partners" to identify "interim supports to address urgent needs."

"One such program is the Passport program which...helps caregivers have the opportunity for respite from their caregiving responsibilities," the ministry said.

The province added Passport program applicants can access a minimum of $5,500 in direct funding. That includes eligible youth turning 18 and transitioning to adult developmental services.

"It is also important to note that people with a developmental disability may also be eligible for the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) when they turn 18 years of age," the ministry said.

As for Raley, she said the stress of seeing Ryan struggle while living at home or be removed from school for having a violent episode has become too much to bear.

"It can't get any worse. I struggle every day. I'm full of anxiety. I'm nervous constantly, 24/7," she said.

"I feel like my life's going to be cut short because of the stress. I'm just trying to do what's right for my son."

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