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MN2020 - Creating Better Lives at a Better Value
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Creating Better Lives at a Better Value

March 08, 2012 By Steve Larson, Guest Commentary

The current system of supporting people with disabilities has helped tens of thousands of Minnesotans with disabilities become included, valued, and contributing members of their communities. Our system has been a great move forward in the way we support people with disabilities, who only a few decades ago were warehoused in large, crowded, inhumane institutions.

The system we have created, however, is no longer financially sustainable over time. There will be increasing demands on human services dollars as our population continues to age, and we still must support seniors, children, and people with disabilities who currently receive Medical Assistance and other human services.

This calls for innovations and reforms in the way we support our citizens who need it. Reform has been the buzzword at the Capitol since the beginning of the 2012 Legislative Session. Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Zellers told the St. Paul Pioneer Press before the session started that he would like to see “real structural reform” in the way individuals and programs spend the dollars they receive from the state. Before the Legislature convened, Republican leaders had unveiled a “Reform 2.0” agenda. Gov. Dayton, for his part, began his “Better Government for a Better Minnesota” initiative to change government operations, which so far has included competitive bidding for state health insurance programs.

The Arc Minnesota wants to be part of reform efforts, too. We want to help create a future where Minnesotans are supported by services that enhance their dignity and use our public dollars as cost-effectively as possible. There is already one program underway that is contributing to the solution.

Housing Access Services (HAS) has been in existence for more than two years. A partnership among The Arc Minnesota, local Minnesota chapters of The Arc, and the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS), HAS helps people with disabilities who are ready to move to homes of their own as an alternative to more traditional housing options.

In Housing Access Services’ first two years, we have encountered hundreds of Minnesotans with disabilities who need help locating housing; negotiating with landlords; understanding leases and budgets; and finding funds to pay application fees, deposits, and modest furnishings. They may be ready to leave their parents’ home. They may have been in a group home, have become more independent, and no longer need the level of service or 24-hour supervision from group home staff.

Housing Access Services helps individuals with disabilities with any of these needs make the successful transition to a place of their own. So far, HAS has helped hundreds of Minnesotans move – 372 as of this writing. You can hear and see three of those success stories in the Housing Access Services video that DHS produced

Karli Harguth is one of those successes. Before connecting with HAS, Karli lived at home with her parents. Concerns about her seizure disorder and metabolic condition made her mom and dad worry about her living on her own. But Karli, a young woman in her early 20s, wanted more independence. She didn’t need or want to be in a residential facility where she would have people watching her 24 hours a day. “I don’t want to be living where someone is telling me to do this or do that, where someone is checking on me,” she said. “I want to be free.”

Staff at The Arc Southeastern Minnesota in Rochester helped her find an apartment in Eitzen, a small community in Houston County. They helped secure the necessary funding, including energy assistance and support programs to help her live in the community. They were also there when she signed lease and helped her move. “This whole experience has changed my life completely,” Karli said. “Mom still worries about me, but she knows I’m happier now, and she knows it’s the right move.”

Maple Grove resident Adrienne Harper was in a group home for 1½ years, then lived for a short time in an apartment building controlled by a service agency. She was dissatisfied with both options. “The staff felt I had to do whatever they wanted me to do. Whenever they wanted me to eat, I had to eat. Whenever they wanted me to get up, I had to get up. Whenever they wanted me to go to the bathroom, I had to go to the bathroom. I felt that I didn’t have any rights of my own.” Housing Access Services helped her find an apartment in Maple Grove, where personal care attendants come in when needed. Now she lives in her own place, under her own rules.

Besides improving Karli’s and Adrienne’s lives, HAS is helping the state’s bottom line, too. In a report issued by the Minnesota Department of Human Services , the state spends, on average, $35,000 less per year for each person with disabilities who moves to his/her own place from more traditional housing. This adds up to millions of public dollars being used more efficiently and effectively.

Housing Access Services is not for everyone, just like group homes are not for everyone who has a disability. But the service helps people with disabilities who are ready to live more independently to move to a place of their own and make room in the system for those who need a higher level of support and supervision. It is one innovative example of how Minnesota can create even better lives for our citizens at the best value for our tax dollars.

Steve Larson is The Arc Minnesota’s Senior Public Policy Director. The Arc Minnesota is a non-profit organization that promotes and protects the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and actively supports their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes.

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