Larry Oakes is the CEO and President of Mainstay Supportive Housing. This series explores different topics related to finding the right supportive housing for your loved one with intellectual or developmental disabilities. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What is the general premise of supportive housing?
We like to use this concept of a stool – there’s three legs on a stool. Supportive housing follows the stool analogy. You need affordable housing as one leg of the stool; you need services; and the third leg of the stool is the community that surrounds the housing. Affordability – located with services within the community – that’s supportive housing.
Can you talk a bit about the history of supportive housing in Massachusetts and how Mainstay is serving a need for families?
Here at Mainstay, we really focus on supporting adults with developmental disabilities who could function independently living on their own in the community with some minimal support.
We provide housing and then we provide services that are tailored to someone who might be going to work or a program during the day. They have agency and function, but they need support, they need meals, they need oversight and support every day and that’s what we provide. We provide supportive housing for nearly 400 individuals who fit that description and it works really, really well.
What makes Mainstay different from other options?
We’re proud of the fact that our housing to the untrained eye looks like market-rate housing. You and I walking down the street, looking at our housing, wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between our supportive housing and the housing on either side of our buildings, which are well kept market-rate housing locations.
Then there’s the staff here. We employ 60 folks who are as committed to this idea of supportive housing as anyone I’ve met in my 30-year career in the field. As a human services organization, we’re only as good as the services we provide and I’m proud that our team is unparalleled in their commitment and expertise.
We just became a CARF (Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities) accredited organization. We have 50 years of experience and now we’ve been accredited by the largest accreditation body for supportive housing organizations in the country, really in the world. We also subscribe to the idea that continuous quality improvement of our programming is central to our organization.
The accreditation we just earned is a 3-year accreditation and supports that value of ours. It’s about the quality of housing, the quality of our staff and the way we are very serious about the quality of service we provide and always trying to find ways to do that better and better.
Mainstay is nearing its 50th anniversary. What goals do you have for the future?
In 2025, our organization will turn 50. First of all, we’ll celebrate half a century of success and we’ll be looking to do more of what we do. We have a number of initiatives that we will be advancing in 2024. Growing our presence in Massachusetts is certainly a goal. And continuing to look for ways to strengthen the programs we already operate is always a goal for us. We’re working in 10 different cities and towns in Massachusetts at the moment, and have 20 programs across those towns. Looking for ways to make those programs the best programs they can be is always a goal for us. We’ll be looking to expand our board of directors over the next 3 years.
As a 50-year-old nonprofit organization, we are always looking for new ideas and volunteers who can join our organization and meet our mission. It’s going to be an exciting time for us turning 50 – looking back and looking forward and we’re really excited about it.