As housing prices soar and inflation reaches historic levels, conversations about affordable housing and the risk of homelessness abound.  However those conversations often overlook the ever present threat and alarming number of people with special needs and disabilities who become homeless every year.  While some disabled people are able to work and remain gainfully employed, this does not prevent them from becoming victims of increased housing costs or being subject to macroeconomic jobless crisis pressures.  Too often when they get caught in this cycle homelessness it is near impossible to reverse.  

Does Having High Functioning Autism Go Unnoticed

Many people assume someone with high-functioning autism will be shielded from these issues since they are on the higher functioning part of the spectrum.  In these cases it is assumed that their disability isn’t a major issue.  Many people with high functioning autism, also known as Asperger’s syndrome, present as normal and neurologically typical at first glance.  Sometimes people simply assume them to be shy and reserved as opposed to having special needs.  Too many of these people are mislabeled as lazy, defiant, or insubordinate when they are in distress or experiencing issues related to their disability. Rather than these issues stemming from their diagnoses people are assumed to be “acting out”.  Many people who can communicate are often overlooked within the autism community and mislabeled as not being “actually autistic,. Others  attribute special powers to high functioning autistics, akin to the RainMan movie or anecdotal stories of people like Elon Musk or Bill Gates, two high functioning autistics.  Because of this mischaracterization, people assume high functioning means they will be able to mainstream and live on their own.  This often leads to homelessness after their  caregivers are gone since many social service agencies think the person is “fine” and not in need of assistance like others who have visible disabilities.  This is further compounded if the person was never diagnosed in childhood.  The support they need is often overlooked due to their high functioning autism.  Their invisible disabilities result in them never getting what they need and sometimes that includes a home.  Even for those people who can work and pay their own bills,  the isolation can exacerbate feelings of loneliness and other underlying issues.

Physical Disabilities & Being Underestimated.

Whereas it is easy to see how a high functioning person could be overlooked as “normal” and not in need of support, others like those confined to wheelchairs, people who are deaf or blind or have other visible disabilities also suffer from a lack of support which ultimately can lead to homelessness.  From a lack of transportation, to a lack of job accommodation,  it can be hard for disabled people to find or keep a job.  We learned about Chris Tomlinson from Special Books for Special Kids, a wonderful YouTube channel that highlights people with disabilities.  Chris, a father of two, was burned badly as a toddler and lost one hand and several fingers.  Throughout his journey,  he remarked that even though he can easily do the jobs he applies for, people see someone disabled and assume he won’t do a good job. After being repeatedly rejected, Chris and his two daughters found themselves homeless.  Regardless of his desire and his abilities, being homeless became a sad reality for Chris and his family.  Thankfully he was finally rescued from living on the streets and he and his daughter now rest easy with a roof over their heads.

“Forever” Home  Communities For The Disabled

People with special needs who require a lifetime of assistance are now starting to explore the option of group homes, co-living spaces and other communal options.  In Cape Cod, an autistic community was built by a group of concerned parents.   In Texas a parent of a nonverbal autistic boy and parent of a boy with Rhett’s syndrome, also nonverbal, came together to build a forever home for their sons,  and there are several other communal living options springing up.  While the costs can be prohibitive, in some instances, places like the Faison School and our upcoming Hippotherapy House accept applicants regardless of their ability to pay.  With the average cost of a one bedroom unit in an assisted autistic home costing upwards of $80k per year, the need for affordable housing for people with special needs has exploded along with general housing costs.  Group living not only provides a community for support and interaction and can help minimize costs, having a support system and community is key to one’s overall happiness and development.