The Good Friends & Neighbours Summit
Table Of Contents
The Good Friends & Neighburs Summit
Realizing their vision of creating affordable housing in the region, and especially affordable housing that offers dignity and independence to some of its most “vulnerable” citizens, is a monumental achievement for EDSC and EDCL.
To paraphrase: They built it…and the people did come.
There have been many accolades and much praise for a job well done. There are “official” photos taken at Snow Goose and Field of Dreams buildings, beaming faces at dedication ceremonies, celebrations that mark the culmination of all the weeks, months and years of work by the many, many hands it took to get here.
And then there are the snapshots and video clips taken by family, friends and tenants on their respective move-in days, full of joy, pride, gratitude and…hope. For them, a finish line as well…but also a beginning.
Time for Reflection
For EDSC and EDCL the time has come for reflection.
Does the reality of living independently, in an intentional community, come close to meeting their expectations? What do the tenants and those that care about them think about their lives, neighbours and their communities now that the honeymoon phase is over? What do the “good neighbours”, those that society might not label as “vulnerable”, have to say? If it’s working, what makes it work? And what would they tell others about being part of an “intentional community”?
To find out the answers, EDSC contracted with CMCS Consulting Services (the authors of this
paper) to design, facilitate, document and
report on a day of sharing, listening and information gathering with the people involved with Snow Goose and Field of Dreams.
“I am known.”
On Saturday September 29, 2018, a group of sixty people gathered for a full day, to talk and learn about intentional community done the “Elmira way”.
Attendees at the “Good Friends and Neighbours Summit” included:
Tenants who live with developmental disabilities;
Tenants who are “Good Neighbours”;
Family members of both;
Elmira District Community Living staff who had been involved in supporting people to transition to their new homes; and
Representatives from several important partners as well as from other community organizations that were exploring or experiencing their own intentional communities.
The purpose of the day was to learn from those who could best speak to what it was like to live in an intentional community under EDSC’s “Good Neighbour” approach – i.e. the people that call Snow Goose or one of the Field of Dreams locations home, and those that love and care about them.
The day was comprised of small and large group discussions, facilitated by Tom Little of CMCS Consulting Services. The feedback was captured and displayed on a screen so that participants could see their contribution. Attendees were also invited to leave behind any speaking notes they had prepared if they wished to do so.
Those involved in the communities were asked to comment on the following:
What did intentional community mean to them?
What made it work?
What makes someone a good “Good Neighbour”?
Does living in an intentional community make you feel different (in a bad way), segregated or institutionalized?
Following the day of the Summit, CMCS undertook the task of organizing all of the input received and writing this report.
“I feel like I belong.”
(Back to Table Of Contents)
"In Their Own Words"
Tenants, Good Neighbours & Families
The question that elicited the most responses, by far, was What does intentional community mean to you?
Almost exclusively, tenants responded by describing what they had in their lives now, that wasn’t there before:
- Freedom and Choice;
- Respect; and
Tenants described being able to make decisions for themselves on some of the most fundamental aspects of life: where they lived; how they spent their time; who they spent time with; what and when to eat; and having the freedom to succeed.
- My place, my rules…
- (I have) choice: I choose what to eat or where to go.
- I have complete control over my activities and schedule.
For some of the residents, the opportunity to be in an intentional community meant the realization of a long-held dream to live on their own.
- I feel more independent. I’ve been able to do more than I did when I lived at home.
- I love to live independently, love exploring the town and taking the bus which gives me new independence as well.
- It fulfilled my dream of being able to live in my own apartment.
For others, it was an opportunity to continue to live independently without the social isolation and exposure to risk that were making previous living arrangements challenging and stressful.
- I was more isolated where I lived before.
- I used to have a lot of problems with neighbours …knocking on my door at all hours always wanting to borrow stuff. Here the neighbours are better, and I don’t have that trouble here.
- I didn’t really know my neighbours where I lived before; I like that I feel safer and am building relationships with people around me.
- Was more isolated where I lived before, now have opportunity to be with people more.
Virtually all of the tenants recounted examples of positive, reciprocal relationships with those around them, in a way they had never had before, and in a way that made them feel like they belonged and were valued.
In fact, of all the different categories of input related to what intentional community meant to them, the pages for “Freedom/Choice/ Independence” and “Relationships/Belonging” had the most comments.
- I like that there are opportunities for other people to get to know me and see that I’m a good person and good to hang around with.
- I’ve made friends.
- (Everyone) made me feel welcome; I like that the intention is to build
- relationships with people; It gives me a sense of security and belonging.
Still others talked about changes in themselves, or in the way others saw them:
- People see you; it’s not just about people with special needs.
- The community recognizes the needs of the people living there; now the bus stops right in front of McGuire which means even more independence than before.
- I’ve learned about meal plans and following along with a recipe on YouTube.
I learned how to trust myself.
For parents and family members, the struggle between wanting independence and dignity for their adult children and the fears for their safety, happiness and well-being, can be all-consuming.
It’s not that they want a support staff with their son or daughter 24-7; it’s the “what ifs” that are paralyzing. Yes, they can manage the tasks related to living on their own, but what if in the middle of the night this happens… or what if a neighbour does this…what if…what if…
Parent after parent spoke about how much relief they felt that their family member was surrounded by people who were interested in getting to know them, who wanted them to succeed. It meant independence but with a safety net; social connection without encroachment. Knowing that a helping hand was just knock away if it was needed brought immense comfort to them.
And they recounted the gratitude and the joy they felt upon realizing that being a part of intentional community had resulted in their son
or daughter, brother or sister, having friends and neighbours who ‘knew them and cared about them’, as opposed to people with an interest in ‘taking care’ of them.
The Summit also pursued the question of how family members see intentional community being manifested in their loved one’s lives:
- If we could’ve come up with our own idea for what we would want for our daughter, this would be it. She can live her life the way she wants, but within a community that is safe.
- Intentional community means safety to me. It provided a community of people for my daughter to build relationships with and become friends with who are well-intentioned and safe for her to be with. In the time my daughter has lived there, she has surpassed me. She has her life, is happy, is safe and secure.
- The realization of her dreams related to living independently, right down to things like ownership and control over own appliances…in a way that as a family we could never accomplish; a joy to see; such a load off siblings as well as parents; their dreams have come true and they have a security blanket around them.
- (There is) Infectious building of acquaintances and friendships in the broader community through the social network we have built with each other.
There is respect for each other, respect for boundaries.
Comfort: Introverts get what they need when they need it, without being forced to live with people or join in activities they don’t want to be a part of.
- (I see an) increased capacity and capability to be independent.
Perhaps the most surprising perspective came from the group of tenants Elmira calls the “Good Neighbours”, the ones who, in return for affordable rent, commit to a vision of a community where fellow members are open to, and interested in, getting to know one another—in other words, providing a social safety net that reduces loneliness and isolation.
They are not landlords, property managers, personal support workers, paid staff or people with a religious or philosophical vocation to serve others. Just regular folks who need an affordable place to live and who promise to be—simply—good neighbours: friendly, respectful and aware.
Why would they want to be a part of this? What do they get out being a part of an intentional community? The answer may surprise you.
Their motivation was the same as everybody else’s: A home you can take pride in; a safe environment, the kind of community where neighbours want to get to know each other; a place where you are respected and differences are accepted.
- (This) is a community where people trust each other. (It) exceeded our expectations that we were trusted by our neighbours…(This) is a safe community where we know our son could knock on a neighbour’s door if he needed help and he would get it without a problem. (Everyone here is) welcoming to all people, including new Canadians…This is our home now.
- The lines become blurred over time, we’ve all become good neighbours to each other.
- Everyone living there is working to develop that sense of community, it’s not the exclusive domain of the good neighbours; reciprocity is a key element.
- (There is) a sense of belonging that evolves and develops over time.
- (I) value the relationships I have established and the sense of safety I feel.
Back to Table Of Contents)
What Makes It Work?
It was abundantly clear that the people who were experiencing or witnessing intentional community the ‘Good Neighbour’ way were all-in on the concept, and the reality met or exceeded those expectations.
The next part of the agenda focused on gaining insight on whether there were aspects of the model (and how it was manifested) that they saw as key elements of its success. What were the key ingredients that made it work?
A number of themes emerged in the responses we heard:
1. The Good Neighbours concept has a clear vision (and a lot of planning went in to doing it right!)
E.G.: A community of independent people and/or families open to getting to know their neighbours and building relationships, one where the social connections that are developed provide a safety net that is unencumbering yet prevents social isolation and reduces risk for people with developmental disabilities
People are open to you.
A place where everyone looks out for each other.
2. The process for choosing people who would live there was well-planned and well-executed (and hinged on being committed to the vision)
(It) meant that people have common goals about the kind of place they want to live—that leads to trust and respect for each
other, laying the foundation for informal, unplanned but meaningful interactions to happen.
There is a shared intention to come together, network and build a sense of community; everyone actively desires to connect.
3. EDSC made very effective use of social architecture
The physical layout of the building promotes socializing within the units and through the use of shared common spaces.
It even comes down to the design of the building: the design facilitates interaction and the creation of a sense of community while maintaining independent and private space.
Planning and design took into account people’s present and future needs, ensuring stability and sustainability of housing for the people living there.
The design of the building was adapted to meet people’s needs. The planning meant it was accessible to everyone.
We will be able to stay independent longer as we get older.
The buildings are well-located within the broader community and are not differentiated from neighboring dwellings.
People are not socially or geographically isolated. Homes are part of established communities.
Buildings fit within the rest of community they are part of.
4. And not surprisingly, given that the success of many endeavours hinges on the people in key roles…The Good Neighbours themselves
There are many characteristics, skills and attributes that each brings to their role, but
chief among these is the sincere belief that they are receiving just as much value from being a part of the community as everyone else. They see it as their home too, and the kind of home and neighbourhood that they chose to be a part of.
They are also: respectful, comfortable with people and differences, see everyone as equals, approachable and accessible but not
intrusive, able to understand and accept cues from tenants about how much
interaction they prefer, good listeners, excellent relationship “smoothers”, genuinely interested in others, able to set boundaries that they need and want themselves, willing to develop and add relationships to their lives, demonstrate good discernment and respect other’s privacy.
“People’s dignity, rights and citizenship
are realized and recognized by others.”
(Back to Table Of Contents)
Good Neighbours as "Institution Substitution"
The field of developmental services can be one with polarizing views on how services should be planned and delivered. There is a school of thought that says that if any housing arrangement encroaches on a 10:1 ratio (as in ten non-disabled people for each person with a disability) it is essentially a re-institutionalization of intellectually disabled persons. It asserts that situations that involve
more people with disabilities than would be expected to occur in population will eventually become stigmatized and expose vulnerable tenants to risk at the hands of less desirable neighbours who end up living there.
Obviously, EDSC and EDCL do not subscribe to this point of view. If they did, only four or five people with intellectually disabilities would have been afforded opportunities to live independently in the four buildings it has constructed thus far. But it did want to ask the tenants, their families and the Good Neighbours how they felt about this.
A robust discussion followed. Participants unanimously rejected both the validity of the 10:1 ratio and the characterization of Snow
Goose and Field of Dreams as institution substitutions.
- These projects are the antithesis of what makes an institution an institution. Good Neighbour communities are built on pillars of, and a shared commitment to, self-determination, freedom, choice, respect, equality, dignity, inclusion, connection and growth.
- The “Good Neighbours” were clear that they don’t see themselves and their families as living in an institution, and the tenants certainly don’t believe there is less value to a place just because they are living there.
- The whole premise of an intentional community is that people choose to call it home because they want to be there, they are committed to the vision, and they want to be an integral part of building and belonging. That translates to value. And others who don’t share the same appreciation for it simply wouldn’t be living there.
Adhering to an arbitrary ratio ignores the individual’s right to choose where
they live and who they live with. It also ignores the possibility that perhaps some people don’t view disability the same way as others and that it might not be a label that they readily attach to those around them, people are just…people, and
Intentional communities are common all over the world and becoming more and more prevalent in Canada. Many people with shared interests and needs are choosing this lifestyle, and for many of the same reasons: maintenance of affordable independence while reducing risk and preventing social isolation. They are not stigmatized; in fact, many are celebrated and copied again and again by other groups.
One of the attendees captured the sentiment of the group thus: (An intentional community is a group of) people with shared interests defined by people’s needs and wants; other people don’t define it, the people who choose to live there do.
(Back to Table Of Contents)
So, what do tenants and good neighbours think about intentional community now that they are part of one? It’s a place that:
- I have chosen, and it has chosen me.
- Feels safe and welcoming.
- Allows people to choose what community and home means to them.
- Just feels like home, I don’t think of it as a “community”, it’s just home;
“I have always wanted to have my own
place to live, to be independent, to
make friends. This has been a dream
(Back to Table Of Contents)