**Companion Resources Newsletter**
edited by Paul D. Leichty
Volume 3, No. 1 January 2001
I was trying to come up with the right wording for a classified ad. A colleague reminded me that my chosen word, “facility”, sounds very institutional, whereas we are trying to provide a home for our residents.
The point was well taken. It also coincided with a good deal of debate within our community about how to both fund our efforts and still keep away from being “institutional.” All of this started me thinking in a larger way. What makes the difference between a home and an institution? That’s something I would like to explore in this month’s Companion Resources Newsletter.
We live in a society that takes pride in and rewards those who are “independent.” At the same time, we don’t often realize the ways in which all of us are actually dependent on other persons for our lifestyles. Yet, it seems, as long as adults and family units can earn enough to be financially capable of taking care of ourselves, we applaud.
Persons who have disabling conditions which cause them to be more financially dependent are, therefore, troubling. The older model for dealing with this troublesome situation was to gather as many of these folks as possible into institutions, where, it was assumed, economy of scale could come into play. We could hire persons to take care of other persons with similar conditions and thus save money over treating them individually.
Fortunately, today, the trend is in the other direction. Mental hospitals, orphanages, and centers for developmental disabilities have downsized drastically or been eliminated altogether. Even “group homes” are going out in favor of small-scale homes where two or three persons who are more “dependent” live with persons seen as more “independent.” Our community is within that trend as we have a model of three persons living with a couple of “caregivers” augmented by “support staff.”
That hasn’t solved the economics of the problem. To enable the level of services provided, the fees are beyond what the “dependent” individuals can contribute while still leaving “caregivers” with more work and less pay than it takes to keep them financially “independent.” As a result families on both sides of the equation are stretched financially, leading to burnout and turnover among those most able to give of themselves.
The current proposed solution is to structure the caregiving environments in such a way as to take advantage of government funding that is available. This makes a very attractive solution for the financial dilemma. However, the danger is that in accepting government funding, we will once again become more of an institution instead of a home.
* When we live at home, we don’t have to fill out papers documenting that we are caring for each other.
* When we live at home, we don’t have to fulfill individual goals that imposed upon us by someone outside of our home.
* When we live at home, we don’t have someone telling us how we have to handle the pills we take or how we write down on paper to make sure we have taken them.
Clearly, when people are hired to care for other people, some safeguards are in order to protect the people being served. But when the motivation is a genuine caring for others and the desire to build community, how much of that do we give up by needing to follow the regulations of an institution?
Or have we already given up on community by having to pay people to care for others? Yet if some persons aren’t supported by some outside means, there will not be enough time from a consistent group of caregivers to make sure that persons with special needs are safe and secure.
The dilemma is a real one and not easily resolved. However, by being conscious of our motivation and striving toward a home atmosphere and loving, caring relationships we can make any living arrangement a home.
I would appreciate hearing from others who have insight into this tension. I have particularly appreciated the l’Arche model for working at this and want to study this further. Beginning information on l’Arche communities can be found on the Companion Resources website at https://companionresources.org/models.
I’ve also been directed to a very interesting website with articles that are very pertinent to this subject. See a listing of these articles at http://www.community-works.net/articles.htm
As the new millennium moves into full gear, I encourage you to continue to think about the ways in which we can build community more fully!
Paul D. Leichty
The Goldenrod Community
“People Using Technology Building Community”