Today is Tommy Hughes’ Birthday, but he already celebrated another big milestone in his life last week. On March 1, Tommy and his mother, Lisa Hughes, invited CSH staff, Nancy Mercer, and Tommy’s case manager, Holly Toombs from the Henrico Community Service Board, to attend his meeting with the local Public Housing Authority where he was being assigned his housing assistance voucher. Tommy was able to access this resource because Holly pursued the Housing Choice program made available through a partnership between Virginia Housing Development Authority – VHDA – and the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services – DBHDS.
In Virginia, 200 Housing Choice Vouchers have been set aside for men and women with an Intellectual and Developmental Disability (ID/DD) who want to live in integrated community-based settings. This resource comes, in part, as a result of a recent Department of Justice agreement where the Commonwealth pledged to do more to increase community-based housing capacity and supports for individuals with ID/DD. Prior to this settlement – similar ones have been endorsed by CSH throughout the country – ID/DD individuals in Virginia faced limited options. Their “choices” were five large outdated training centers; a Home and Community Based Waiver System (HCBS) that was stretched thin and operating with outdated rate structures; and long waiting lists and an inadequate crisis support to manage the thousands of individuals and families who were in daily need across the state. Since 2011, DBHDS has been leading the commitment to build capacity with ongoing oversight from DOJ and the courts.
CSH is excited by the progress being made in Virginia as hundreds of men, women, and families move from inadequate and antiquated institutions to community-based housing and services. The HCBS program is in the process of becoming more person centered in how it is administered, managed and financed; informed and responsive crisis services for children and adults continue to be refined and developed; and we are seeing a more effective approach toward housing and support services that is allowing individuals with ID/DD a true choice on where they want to live and which services are going to be provided to them.
But let’s get back to the main reason why all of this is so important – Tommy.
Betty Ross was the Housing Specialist assigned to Tommy and his mother, who is his legal guardian. It was evident that Ms. Ross has been assigning and managing the housing voucher process for many years, and she takes her job very seriously. Immediately she sensed that Tommy and his support team were nervous and unsure of how to proceed and she immediately became an inclusive, reassuring and reaffirming force.
Ms. Ross, addressed Tommy directly as he was the identified as “Head of Household”, but she made sure his mother was aware that her voice was as important as Tommy’s. Ms. Ross explained each piece of paper thoughtfully as she asked his mother to sign for Tommy over and over again. “This is a process,” she would remind everyone in the room. “It takes time, but in the end Tommy will have a housing voucher that will provide him with a resource he can use to pay for his own home.”
Tommy was the most patient of all, smiling and collecting his papers and filing them away. Some of the papers were very technical, but Ms. Ross made sure she provided information that was much more user-friendly like the HUD Housing Inspection handbook, which includes pictures of what the inspector is looking for at the time of the annual inspection. She also shared information about Tommy’s potential community choices, and how he could get help locating a home that would accept his Housing Choice Voucher.
When Ms. Ross learned that Tommy had identified where he wanted to live–she was well aware of the apartment complex and how it was operated. Ms. Ross was sensitive to the fact that Tommy would have medical expenses that may include housing supports, electronic surveillance services, and transportation to and from a job.
Ms. Ross asked Tommy if he had any more questions at the end of the two hour meeting, to which he responded, “No, thank you, Betty.” Tommy’s mother jumped in and whispered, “Ms. Ross, Tommy, it’s disrespectful to call her by her first name.” Tommy blushed, and Ms. Ross chimed in, “No it’s ok, I told him to call me Betty, I prefer to be called Betty.”
As we left the office, we were confident Tommy will thrive in his new home and that he had found a invaluable support in his community – his housing specialist, ‘Betty”.
Happy Birthday, Tommy – and good luck in your new home!