By Mark and LaVerne Czichotzki
After attending the 1991 State Arc Conference in Rochester and the Housing Options for Persons with Disabilities, we got actively involved in a search for the best housing option for our son Mike. As parents, we talked with all the members of Mike's interdisciplinary team who were concerned with him and the development of services that would meet his needs as best they could be, with Mike having a place to live that would be a true home in home living options. After input and discussions with everyone we decided to purchase a home for Mike.
We set as a goal to have Mike move into a new home before his graduation from high school in 1993. That way Mike's move to the new home would occur before his school routine would be changing too. We thought having all his routines changing at once would be hard for Mike, just as it would be for anyone else. In 1991, we started looking for affordable housing and in August of 1992 we were able to purchase a two-bedroom home in our community for Mike. Mike moved into "Mike's House" in September of 1992 just in time to start his last year at the local high school!
We made a decision to purchase the home and rent to Mike. This arrangement allows our family to have involvement and more control in Mike's living arrangement, since we are his landlords.
Mike receives his support through twenty-four-hour "Adult Foster Care", a program funded through Medicaid waiver services. Because the services were to be provided under an Adult Foster Care license, before we could actually use the home as a "service site" there were a couple of inspections and regulations that were required by the county and state: one by the fire marshal and another by the County Adult Foster Care Coordinator to inspect the house and okay it for adult foster care.
Because of Minnesota law, we were able to qualify for second homestead credit for Mike's house which dramatically saves on property taxes. Because he is low-income, Mike receives phone assistance, fuel assistance, and energy modifications on his house. But, most importantly, Mike's services have a "person-first" philosophy that really supports people living in homes that are their own. Because of this and Mike's hard work, "Mike's House" has been a success.
Mike continues to be successful while living in his own home. This is not to say there haven't been those moments, but overall it continues to be a positive experience for Mike and he continues to meet many challenges throughout his life with the support of all community members.
In the past eight years of living in his own home, Mike has become a true community/neighborhood member. As his parents, we felt it was important to have the neighbors include Mike in their activities and consider him a "real" neighbor. We did this in a couple of ways. First, we had an open house in honor of Mike's 21st birthday and his moving into his new home . . .we invited the neighbors! Mike is also a member of the neighborhood watch program that was started about three years ago in his area. They hold neighborhood picnics and safety events, put up street and security lights, and have other events to make the neighborhood a safe place to live and raise families. We made sure Mike contributed toward and participated in the events that the neighborhood watch sponsored. It has been a positive experience for everyone on 12th Street North in Moorhead!
Mike has also had the opportunity to host college students at an event at his home in Moorhead. The college students had a project called "Helping Hands" and they chose Mike and his house as the location to do the project. They met Mike and learned about his challenges in living with many different disabilities, and then they assisted Mike in chores around the house. One student said it best, "We learned a little about autism, but a lot about the importance of helping others."
As Mike's family, we continue to support and work toward upgrading the direct care staff positions that are so important to Mike and his success in living in his own home. This has probably been the most frustrating issue that we have to deal with concerning "Mike's House." We continue to work with Arc Minnesota in the legislation area, and we try to connect with our local legislators concerning these two important issues: 1) obtaining good quality direct care staff, and 2) keeping good, qualified direct care staff! It's important for all of us to advocate for programs that continue to assist Mike in being a community member.