Ask Our Experts: Mainstay’s Doreen Cummings Discusses What to Look for in a Supportive Home

Doreen Cummings is Director of Services for Mainstay Supportive Housing. This series explores different topics related to finding the right supportive housing for your loved one with intellectual or developmental disabilities. 

 

What is the most important factor that families should consider when deciding on a supportive home?

Families should really use their instincts and feel the vibe in the place that they are going to look at as an option for their loved one. In our intake process, [families can] tour the facilities, meet the other residents, meet the staff team—those are all important components of the intake process to see if it’s a good match.

Sometimes we have folks on the tour saying, ‘Can I move in today?’ and that is always amazing. We know that it is a huge piece if the person who wants to live there has some enthusiasm about wanting to be there and making that transition. 

Looking at the space, looking at the location, who the peers are—those are all important. Also important is to look at the services they offer, how the schedule works, and the rhythm of the program.

A big piece is going and feeling the vibe of the organization and of the leadership. The staff can turn over in this climate of recruitment, and it’s really looking at the next level. What are they doing to find good workers, good people to be with their family members who have a disability.

 

When you are trying to create that vibe you really have to find the right residents and staff and have the right vision from above. How do you make sure that continues? 

We always say that we are a family collaborative, meaning we really need the families to be part of the glue that holds the program together. It’s not a 24/7 model, but it does provide a person their own home, their own space, their own life outside the family home.

Having family members that are involved, either virtual or popping in in-person and really honoring the family spirit of the model, allow their loved ones to do best.

 

How do you think Mainstay sets itself a part in having supportive homes for adults?

This is a really unique that model that was designed and driven by the call of the families. We first started the model with one, 7-person home. Hundreds of families toured the facility and wanted this model because there isn’t the funding to support someone 24/7 in a residential home. There is too much need for the resources that we have allocated. I feel we are set apart because we are designed around a need, and that need is serving 70 percent of the folks that fall under the category of having a disability and needing supportive housing, without having any state support.

We tried to figure out a way to make this housing model affordable and unique dynamics to the program. For example, our live-in model. We offer two units of housing to staff members. It provides staff housing, which is tricky to find in Massachusetts. So, not having someone coming and going overnight is something that really sets us apart.

I think our community is the real thing that makes us different. We have the best families and the best residents. They’re just amazing humans who are kind and want an opportunity to have some independence with some support. We are really great neighbors and the group really gets along well. For folks with disabilities who aren’t really able to get married, move into place and have a pet – or have kids – this extended housing community ends up being an extension of their family. They really become family members as they go about their lives and live with us for many years.

There are lots of things that set us apart from the others but affordability, live-in support and community… are the top three.

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