Michigan community welcomes adults with disabilities
Lansing — Matt Arends is a pioneer.
He’s the first to move into an east-side Lansing neighborhood near Sparrow Hospital to launch a small community of adults with disabilities.
Eventually, the hope is that Arends, 37, who has autism, and others will live independently in apartments or homes in the neighborhood and have the social support of others nearby.
Arends has his own apartment on the upper floor of an older house being purchased by the Lansing Intentional Communities, or LINCs, a nonprofit founded by parents of children with autism. That’s a disability that affects communication and social skills.
The house, which is being updated inside, is just north of Sparrow Hospital.
“I find it safe. You know, this is a nice neighborhood,” Arends said. He’s employed at the Meijer Distribution Center in Lansing.
It’s a different concept than a group home. An intentional community, modeled after a program in Ann Arbor, allows for independent living while offering social connections.
That’s one of the biggest problems for adults with autism and other developmental disabilities trying to make it on their own.
“A lot of people who live independently are very lonely,” said Bob Steinkamp, a retired special educator who is on the LINCs board.
It strikes a balance between living in a group home or staying in their parents’ basement. And it’s near the No. 1 CATA bus line, stores and restaurants and the Allen Neighborhood Center, which has a farmer’s market on Wednesdays.
Soon, the group hopes to rent the bottom floor of the house to two people. Encouraging others to move nearby by renting or purchasing will grow the community. The goal is to have eight to 10 people living within a block or two of each other.
In addition, a “community builder” will be hired to live nearby to direct social events and be a resource for the independent adults when they need help.
Mary Douglass, president of the LINCs board, compares it to a job of a resident assistant in a dorm.
The community builder will be available in evenings and plan social gatherings. The pay will be in the form of housing, paid by families of the residents or other funding if it can be found.
“This is a game-changer,” she said. “This is letting people live independently but still be engaged with other people and a part of the community.”
The group is taking applications for the two-bedroom apartment in the lower half of the home. They are looking to rent to those who want to be sociable.
Another young adult with autism lives next door to the LINCs house. His mother, Carol Thomas, has been working with the Eastfield Neighborhood Association to keep it informed.
The area has two-story Craftsman-era homes dating back to 1910. It was once home to early autoworker families in Lansing.
Lisa Stelzner, president of the association, said neighbors are supportive. The area has potluck dinners every other month and a holiday party.
“We try to be very welcoming. We’re a pretty diverse community,” she said.
Matt Arends is excited about the project. Until May, when he moved to Lansing, he commuted daily from Saranac. His sister and her family live in Okemos.
Arends serves on a board for a nonprofit that provides social coaching for adults with autism. That’s how he knows Bob Steinkamp who told him about the LINCs house.
Arends is friendly and affable. He’s in charge of the lawnwork and pays $450 a month.
“I had a hard time finding the right place for me,” he said.
He feels at home now.