Housing Solutions to Support Independent Living for People with Disabilities

Israel Unlimited helps people with disabilities experience life independently by providing them options for independent living in the community. Supported Housing and Expanded Supported Housing offer participants support and practical mentoring every step of the way in obtaining independent living opportunities. Affordable Housing holds the promise of a long term, stable home, and Smart Homes utilizes technological solutions to enhance personal safety and autonomy.

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Israel Unlimited strives to reduce gaps between people with and without disabilities and to increase the autonomy of people with disabilities on a national scale. The barriers that prevent people with disabilities from living in an inclusive society according to their needs and wishes negatively affects their quality of life and Israeli society as a whole. So many Israelis with disabilities living in government-supported institutions has led to fractured society, one that has economic and moral implications. Moving people from the institutional system to independent living decreases costs and creates larger scale impact. It simply costs less to include people with disabilities in communities.

Today, some 27,500 people with disabilities in Israel still live in government housing solutions (10,500 in large institutions and 17,000 in hostels/group homes). Israel Unlimited has inaugurated four ground-breaking initiatives aimed at reversing this trend.

Through Supported Housing, people with disabilities receive a holistic basket of support services that allow them to transition to independent housing in the community. Care coordinators prepare the participants and their families for the move, help participants find and adapt an apartment, ensure full exercise of rights, and provide life skills training. Once a participant moves to his or her own apartment, Supported Housing continues to reach out with social activities, mentoring, assistance with home maintenance, and emergency medical services. As of the end of 2019, seven organizations were involved in running Supported Housing in 12 regions and 36 local authorities nationwide. Over the past year, Israel Unlimited has been working intensively to lay the groundwork for transitioning Supported Housing to the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs, and Social Services by the end of 2020.

An extension of this programme, Expanded Supported Housing is designed for people with more severe and profound disabilities, including people with a medium level of intellectual disability, people on the autism spectrum at a medium level of functioning, and adults currently living in nursing homes due to the high level of care they require. The pre-pilot for Expanded Supported Housing was launched in northern Israel in 2019; by the end of the year, there were two active participants and six candidates. Israel Unlimited intends to expand the program to Jerusalem in the coming year, and to enroll a total of 16 participants, who will be referred by local social services and housing institutions.

Many landlords in Israel refuse to sign long-term leases and/or to rent their properties to people with disabilities. Affordable Housing is a new project that aims to ensure that people with disabilities who are not eligible for public housing and who do not have the resources to buy their own home have a stable housing solution for the rest of their lives. Participants will use the rent subsidies they receive from the Ministry of Housing and some of their benefits from the National Insurance Institute (NII) as well as pooling resources from government, banks, insurance companies, and impact investing. In 2019, Israel Unlimited signed a contract with an operating agency to procure the first few apartments for this initiative. A married couple with disabilities was selected to purchase the first apartment, which they chose in coordination with programme staff. Negotiations have begun with the Tel Aviv municipality to buy several more apartments. Additional operational models will be piloted in 2020 that look to ensure long term sustainable financing, not just through philanthropic support. The pilot of Affordable Housing is for the purchase of 25 apartments.

Giving people with disabilities the capacity to function more independently within their personal space enhances their sense of personal safety and autonomy and boosts their self-confidence. Israel Unlimited’s innovative Smart Homes project achieves this by utilizing user-friendly systems that allow a person with disabilities to control electronic and technological devices, such as thermostat, lighting, home security system, stereo, and computer. A small sampling of such devices includes Sesame Enable (touch-free smartphones), the Grid 3 smartbox, and the Foxifinder smart watch with built-in GPS and panic button. A pre-pilot programme for 50 people with disabilities, ages 18-65, was launched in early 2019. All participants – who were in various stages of needs assessment and technology acquisition as of the end of the year – had at least one disability, ranging from mental health disabilities to intellectual disabilities to physical disabilities and autism. They were selected in consultation with social service supervisors, housing frameworks, local authorities, and service providers. The full-scale pilot will begin in 2020, encompassing 100 people across Israel. Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute will carry out an evaluative research study.

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