There’s a new home in town, providing persons with disabilities the opportunity to live independently. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Steve Nazaran, the Community Coordinator of L’Arche Chicago, to learn about their model and why more people should support this program.
L’Arche is a vibrant Community Integrated Living Arrangement for people with and without disabilities, located on Chicago’s west side. The home is comprised of four core members with disabilities that live with three people without disabilities. L’Arche Chicago is accessible to downtown, public transportation, and a wealth of resources.
The home is integrated into the neighborhood so from the outside L’Arche reflects the same structural qualities as most other homes in the area. “We want the layout and design of the homes to be esthetically pleasing,” says Nazaran. Most neighbors like the idea of a L’Arche home in the area or do not notice that this type of community living is present. The homes are well maintained, creating no impact to the character of the neighborhood. Services are not provided on-site so that the home can focus on building community and learning from one another.
L’Arche is very intentional about connecting with the community. The home hosts monthly Community Nights to invite local residents over in an open house setting to share a meal and connect in a comfortable judgement-free environment. “Having these relationships helps you to realize their strengths and that they’re not all that different from you,” explains Nazaran. “Everyone has vulnerabilities and weaknesses. It helps you to recognize your prejudices and helps to broaden your views.” The L’Arche community helps to break down stereotypes that people may have towards persons with disabilities and illuminates the fact that the disabled population deserve to live with dignity and are active participants in society. L’Arche residents are employed by local businesses within the area, which is another way that the residents connect with the community.
One barrier that L’Arche faces is physical accessibility. Due to the housing stock type within the region, L’Arche homes are typically two flats which prevent wheelchair access to the 2nd floor for potential residents and visitors of the home. The installation of elevators and ramps would be ideal; however in most cases funding is not available to make those accommodations. Despite this barrier, L’Arche homes are open to all and accommodate within their financial means as much as possible. Many homes in the Chicago region have large community spaces, which is an asset for when people that need physical accommodations visit L’Arche.
People without disabilities also benefit from the L’Arche program. Nazaran explains that, “At times people come to L’Arche because they are service-minded and value the idea of building a relationship with a population that is typically separated from their world. Others have been somehow impacted by the disability community and have worked with the population before, but feel that they want to be a part of an experience where people with disabilities live a full life.” L’Arche does not market living in their community as a job. People come because they recognize that they can get something out of it. Unlike the high turnover rates in group homes, people without disabilities that live at L’Arche stay for years. After they transition out of the program, most in some way stay connected to the home and contribute to the mission of the program.
Due to the success of this program, there are L’Arche homes in more than 30 countries worldwide.
For more information: L’Arche Chicago
By Morgan P Davis, Fair Housing Policy Director