Thursday, 18 May 2017 03:56

Southwest Homes opens ninth group home in Swift Current

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Southwest Homes Board Chair Joy Moe speaks during the official opening of Milburn House in Swift Current, May 12. Seated, from left to right, Southwest Homes Executive Director Susie Eidem, Swift Current Deputy Mayor Ryan Plewis, and Premier Brad Wall. Southwest Homes Board Chair Joy Moe speaks during the official opening of Milburn House in Swift Current, May 12. Seated, from left to right, Southwest Homes Executive Director Susie Eidem, Swift Current Deputy Mayor Ryan Plewis, and Premier Brad Wall. Matthew Liebenberg

A new group home in Swift Current provides accommodation in a home-like environment for the four residents.
The official opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony for Milburn House took place May 12.


The event was attended by families, local dignitaries, representatives from the Saskatchewan Ministry of Social Services and Swift Current MLA and Premier Brad Wall.
This is the ninth group home operated by Southwest Homes in the city. The four residents haven been settling into their new home since February.
“We are really excited,” Southwest Homes Executive Director Susie Eidem said after the ceremony. “The guys have been here for a few months and so they’re settled in and this really does feel like home to them. They are just loving living in their own space in the rooms that are decorated in ways that they like and make them happy and spend time in there whenever they want. So it’s been really exciting.”
Three of them are former residents of Valley View Centre in Moose Jaw, where they lived in a more institutional setting. The move to the group home in Swift Current therefore represents a  significant change in lifestyle for them.
“I think it’s still pretty new for them, because some of them have lived in Valley View since they were small children,” she said. “So when you’re 50 or 60 and beyond it’s all they’ve really ever known.”
Southwest Homes staff therefore have to be mindful of the previous situation of the residents and how that was different from the arrangement in the group home, where they have more opportunities to spend time in their private space.
“Sometimes, we have to approach that by making sure the doors are open so they don’t feel isolated either, because they’re used to be with people all the time,” she said.
The group home provides residents with more freedom and they enjoy spending time in the backyard.
“They’re in the backyard even when it’s not such a nice day,” she said. “They have swings, they eat meals out there, they just hang out outside. I think that’s probably one of the biggest differences — the freedom that they have to go out when they want and if they walk out the door, we follow them and go wherever they want to go.”
The reaction of one of the residents when he discovered this freedom is indicative of their new lifestyle in the group home.
“I use the story about Quinten opening the door and the wonder on his face that he could actually open a door and go outside,” she said. “He’d step outside and then he’d like look at people and ‘do you see what I’m doing here? I’m going outside,’ and it was amazing because such a small thing for us we would never even think of that and it was huge for them.”
For the fourth resident, Kory, this group home also represents an important step towards more independent living. The home includes a basement apartment that gives him more freedom of movement.
According to Eidem, this is a new approach that is different from the typical options between a group setting, where there is a lot of staff support for 24 hours a day, and independent living in an apartment with no support, except a few times a week.
“What we were looking for was kind of a middle road for that,” she explained. “So we have created a semi-independent apartment. It’s a sitting room and a bedroom and a bathroom, but it’s in the basement. There’s a door that Kory can come and go as he pleases, but he can still eat meals with the folks upstairs, he still has some social contact, assistance with medication if required, but feels very much like he’s in his own apartment, which was always one of his dreams and we were really happy that we could help him with that.”
Southwest Homes has experienced significant growth since 2007 as a result of funding support from the provincial government. At that time, there were only two group homes in Swift Current with nine residents and no day programming. There are now nine group homes for 33 residents and the day program gives support to 24 people. The annual provincial funding to Southwest Homes increased from $900,000 in 2007 to $4 million in 2017.
“Obviously, without the support of the provincial government we couldn’t operate at all,” she said. “We have grown a lot over the last few years and there is a real need for that. People with disabilities are certainly much better off than they were 10 years ago and we understand that even with budget constraints that there’s still somewhat of a focus for people to move out of that institutional setting and move into a smaller home while still looking at the needs of the community and we’re able to do this with this home here. So we have also taken one person off the waitlist that we had from the community. So that is a good thing for us as well.”
Premier Wall expressed satisfaction with the government's progress to provide housing for people with intellectual disabilities in Swift Current.
“Now there's still a small wait list,” he said. “We actually had it down to zero and we have a few on there. So we need to keep making progress, but I'm very grateful to Southwest Homes. They're an amazing community based organization that we're blessed to have in the southwest and their team provides a great quality of life for the residents that are moving here.”
The government will continue to work with the residents of Valley View Centre, their families and community-based organizations on the transition to group homes in the province.
“Over the last number of years it's become apparent that while the care there is really good, that maybe a more home-like environment is desired, but that was a big facility with a lot of residents and so it's taken some time to transition away and to more of a home setting,” he said. “I think there's still well over 100 there and 50 now that have moved out of Valley View and most of them in the Saskatchewan settings like this, and a few out of the province actually if there's family there.”
According to Wall the needs of people with intellectual disabilities will remain a priority for the provincial government, despite the challenges of reducing the budget deficit and the various budget cuts that were announced for 2017-18.
“This budget obviously was a very difficult budget for the province and there were some tough decisions we made, but I would note that actually in that tough budget context this is the largest social services budget in the history of Saskatchewan,” he said. “Other ministries were dealing with zeros and sometimes minus ones or just plus ones. They get a nine per cent increase and a lot of that is utilization. We have more people utilizing different programs and services, but also a part of it is a decision not to reduce other elements, even if we can't increase them, and this is an area where we still have a goal to make Saskatchewan the very, very best for someone that might have a disability and for family members of people with a disability.”
He acknowledged that the current budget situation will slow down that process to make investments in the province to serve people living with disabilities.
“It probably does,” he said. “I think if it was a different budget situation I think our government has signalled that we would make this sort of an investment a top priority. ... It's maybe one of the best investments any government could make, but it costs money. So for sure, if we have and when we have strengthening financial position, we'll make up some time on our goal to make this the best place in Canada for folks with disabilities or their families.”

Read 1270 times Last modified on Wednesday, 17 May 2017 15:19
Matthew Liebenberg

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