San Mateo County offers resources for disabled youths transitioning to independence 

Young people struggling with disabilities who face additional challenges as they seek independent lives have a range of sources to call on for help in San Mateo County.

That was the message of a recent fair hosted by the San Mateo County Health System in an effort to help connect adults with disabilities with essential health and social-service providers.

For children and teens with disabilities, many of their needs as they grow up are met by their parents and schools, explained Craig McCulloh, the community program analyst for the county's Commission on Disabilities. But as they become older, schools and parents provide less of a foundation.

"The biggest challenge for people with disabilities is the transition to independence," which is "a lifelong journey for many people," McCulloh noted. "Just like everyone else, people with disabilities want to be productive and not a burden on their families and others."

Housing is one of the major difficulties people often face as they grow older and seek to live independently, McCulloh explained. Some local organizations work to address that need for adults with disabilities by placing them with foster families or well-suited roommates.

The Arthur Jackson Residential Adult Program is one organization that matches those living with disabilities with home and care providers. Those who need a place to live are matched up with others who provide a room in their home, prepare meals and give rides to the roommate. The program can be mutually beneficial by bringing people together who appreciate the care and the companionship, McCulloh said.

The nonprofit organization has been providing these matchmaking services since 2007 in the Bay Area, and spokeswoman Aisha Blackwell said the group is always seeking out willing home providers. The goal, Blackwell said, is "a communal yet independent and supported experience that's different from what they've been used to receiving from other housing options."

The Human Investment Project, which also provides roommate matching services in San Mateo County, helps place adults -- at least 30 percent of whom live with disabilities -- in homes where the residents, often seniors, look to rent out a room for relatively affordable rates.

One match that the service brokered has lasted more than 18 years, HIP Associate Director Laura Fanucchi said.

"A woman who is a senior came to us, and we were able to match her with a male and, at this point, I think he's now a senior, too, and has a disability, and he's been able to stay there close to his place of employment for 18 years," she said.

HIP, which also maintains below-market-rate housing properties in the county, has been providing low-cost housing options since the early 1970s.

"We provide housing to about 1,400 people each year," Fanucchi said. "Maintaining affordable-housing options in one of the most expensive counties in the nation is a big challenge, and a big accomplishment."

McCulloh said he was heartened to see how the parents of youths with disabilities who attended the fair really cared about helping their children connect with various services.

"I think it was also reassuring for the families to know that these resources exist to provide support to their children," he said.

Navigating the intersecting systems of health care, disability insurance and social services can be complicated and tricky, noted McCulloh, who hopes such outreach events can provide an often underserved group of people with the resources they need to "best live their lives in the most fulfilling way."

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Emilie Mutert

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