Sustainable Independent Living with BRIDGE at HELP HOMES
By Nicole Linzmeyer, SARC Communications Officer
In celebration of SARC’s 50th Anniversary, we are highlighting Member Agencies that are approaching client needs in unique ways. SARC Members have accomplished some amazing things for Saskatchewan communities over the last fifty years; looking ahead into the next fifty, we know there are many more achievements to be made!
Since 1996 HELP Homes has been offering the BRIDGE (Building Residential Independence through Diversity, Guidance and Education) program – a life skills and residential program that provides individuals with the desire and capacity to live on their own the skills they need in order to live as independently as possible. Individuals in the BRIDGE program live in a home with one other BRIDGE participant for a period of 18-24 months where they learn the skills they need to move out and be more independent in the community.
Prior to 2010, BRIDGE was mainly a mentoring program; however, HELP Homes found that this model was not meeting the goals of the program – to successfully move out. So, in 2010 BRIDGE became more formalized and developed a modular based program based off of an Australian program called Green Acres. The BRIDGE staff who had been working in the program since it first began adapted it to their community. The modules were redesigned to apply to Regina (and Canada) for areas such as transportation, planning meals, budgeting, etc.
Since developing this formalized approach, the program has had a 100% success rate. Eight individuals have successfully graduated from the program. Not only were they successful in moving out as independently as possible, they have been able to maintain this independence – the first graduate has been living on his own for eight years! Sherry McKinnon, HELP Homes Executive Director, said, “Our first graduate has been living very successfully for eight years and is doing really well. He has a good social life, goes to movies every weekend, does a walking program, and he has a whiteboard with all of his meals and activities for the week. Part of the program is to learn socialization, learn about opportunities in the community, so that when they move out they don’t get isolated. They have been so successful. We’ve never had anyone move out and live independently and fail.”
So far all of the BRIDGE graduates have moved on to receive supports from the Supported Living Program (SLP) at HELP Homes; however, they typically require less support than others in SLP, and depending on the person, future graduates may require no supports at all. Sherry McKinnon says, “We’ve been able to expand the coverage of our SLP program from 12 to 13 people because the BRIDGE graduates don’t require as much support. A lot of times when they move out of the BRIDGE home, what they need support with is help with paying their bills, monitoring their hygiene, or housekeeping, so the support is drastically reduced when they move out.”
The BRIDGE program’s unique approach motivates the individuals and gives them goals to work towards. “I have not heard of another program that actually uses a specific training model to help individuals move into independent living in the community,” Sherry McKinnon shared. “A lot of programs mentor, but BRIDGE is modular based and we tailor the program to the individual’s needs. For example, someone may need more training on housekeeping or hygiene than they need for cooking, so we are constantly monitoring and assessing the individuals to see the areas that we need to provide the life skills.”
BRIDGE is an excellent opportunity for individuals that may have never had the opportunity to learn the life skills needed to live on their own but have the capacity to do so. Sherry adds, “The individuals that BRIDGE serves often fall through the cracks. Depending on where they were living before, they might not have had the opportunity to cook, do laundry, and may have been prompted to do other things rather than initiate on their own.”
Providing supports for this gap in services is not only an innovative way to provide individuals with the opportunity to be independent, but it’s also very cost effective. “As we move forward in residential supports we need to think outside the box. This program costs $158, 000/year to operate (excluding staffing) in comparison to group homes which are a lot more. It’s also self-funding since the individuals pay rent – so they are paying the mortgage and the maintenance. Depending on how that works for us budget wise, we may even be able to subsidize the cost of the program a bit. So it is very economically efficient.” Sherry said. “Then these individuals move out after 24 months – so they are not being supported by that yearly cost anymore, maybe $10, 000/year for the SLP. To offer individuals that ability to have their dreams realized, to change their lives and to really give them a sustainable quality of life, it is very economical and it is a great way to think outside of the box.”
The BRIDGE program also has some exciting changes happening this fall! They will be moving into their new home, which has been designed more specifically for BRIDGE participants. It has an excellent location with easy access to shopping, doctors’ offices, and close to businesses that participants often work. The new home will also have a training room in the basement to provide a better learning environment for the BRIDGE participants when going through the training. They also plan to work with more technology in the new home, including using laptops and tablets that individuals can use in the home and take with them wherever they go, with the goal of helping them to advance through the program sooner.
It’s great to see how this innovative program is increasing independence and opportunities for people. “BRIDGE literally changes people’s lives and opportunities. All of us have a goal of living on our own, having a job, having our own things and having a good life. This program really gives them the opportunity to do that. This program gives them a quality of life that is sustainable,” Sherry said.
Thanks to HELP Homes for sharing with us about the BRIDGE program. If you’re interested in learning more about BRIDGE, contact Sherry McKinnon at HELP Homes.