Nov 2, 2023, KSL, Salt Lake: Study sheds light on staggering housing challenges for Utah's autistic adults https://www.ksl.com/article/50772635/study-sheds-light-on-staggering-housing-challenges-for-utahs-autistic-adults
Somewhere between 20% and 40% of Utah's homeless population has autism or another intellectual and developmental disability, according to the director of a project to help Utahns with autism.
The factors that contribute to such an astonishing statistic boil down to one thing: lack of support and housing accessibility for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
In 2021, the Madison House Autism Foundation conducted a needs assessment study involving Salt Lake Valley adults who have autism, and the study found that the No. 1 concern for these adults is housing. As a result, the foundation worked with partners "to understand what autistic individuals and their families need and want for future residential and support options," a report on the study said.
The report on both studies was discussed in the Utah Housing Coalition's November meeting on Wednesday, featuring Sumiko Martinez, the director of Madison House's Autism After 21 Utah Project; and Kristy Chambers, Columbus Community Center CEO and Utah Housing Coalition board member.
The Autism After 21 Utah Project was made "with the goal of building neuro-inclusive communities throughout the state of Utah, seeing if we can do that in an evidence-based way on a statewide basis and then creating a blueprint that other states can use if they want to come to the table and (make) communities more autism-friendly and friendly to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities," Martinez said.
The study report said approximately 191,000 adults in Utah have autism or intellectual and developmental disabilities. Of those adults, about 32,000 live with a caregiver above the age of 60. This means the risk posed to these individuals is a possible loss of home and care due to a caregiver's aging, illness or death.
A workshop with local leaders was held in the spring to present data on housing needs for people with autism or intellectual and developmental disabilities to local developers and community leaders.
Martinez repeatedly referred to the term "neuro-inclusive housing," which she defined as "residential opportunities that are financially, physically and cognitively accessible." She said that while the Americans with Disabilities Act covers a spectrum of physical disabilities, neuro-inclusive housing is seeking to address the cognitive and financial needs many disabled people have.
While the housing market is increasing at an ever-growing rate, Utah's Division of Services for People with Disabilities reported that only 21% of adults with a disability are employed, working an average of 10.5 hours a week. At the same time, the National Low Income Housing Coalition estimated that a full-time job at $24.19 an hour, or 133 hours per week at minimum wage, would be needed to afford a single-bedroom apartment in Salt Lake City.
However, "It's not just about solving for housing; it's also solving for necessary support services," Chambers said.
The solution for the lack of neuro-inclusive housing is what Martinez called long-term support services. These services include housing education and the development of affordable housing that creates communities for the disabled individuals involved.
In the housing analysis survey, Martinez said intellectually and developmentally disabled Utahs showed preferences for apartments and condos, "extra durable features" (amenities that are easy to use and hard to break), smart-home features like an oven that turns off after a certain amount of time, and sensory-proofing such as dimmable lights.
Other resources for long-term support services include a need for life skills classes, sex education, money management and automotive maintenance, Martinez said.
The study's conclusion states that inadequate housing due to financial issues or lack of data availability is causing "systemic challenges facing Salt Lake Valley's ability to meet the needs of its neurodiverse population."
The Autism After 21 Utah project study's findings on housing market analysis will be used in conjunction with the Utah Housing Coalition to create and accomplish goals for improving housing and care for the disabled, including turning old hotels into housing units for people in need of neuro-inclusive housing.