Building Inclusive Housing

By John Guido

Katherine Black is a woman with a plan, a “plan for living independently.” On My Own? tells the story of this spunky woman who lives in L’Arche Hobart in Australia. This short film (part of the L’Arche International As I Am film series) is in turn hilarious and touching, informative and entertaining. It’s hard not to root for Katherine, a woman with an intellectual disability, determined to do whatever it takes “to be as free as a bird” – to live on her own, yet remain connected to the people who know and love her, the people “you depend on for independence.”

This film by Michael McDonald and Amber Herkey is a helpful addition to the conversation about a person’s home as not only a place to live, but also a path to increased choice, independence, and inclusion. Like Australia, there has been a shift in Canada away from the group home model towards individualized approaches that give persons with intellectual disabilities more control over where they live and with whom, and what supports they need to thrive. Yet as we see in “The Loneliness Statistic” (with data from the Australia Bureau of Statistics), the move to independence without supports for belonging and inclusion leaves many people lonely and isolated.

The Challenges of Systemic Change

Way back in 2006, Housing for Adults with Intellectual Disabilities, a paper written for Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), named the gap between the housing people need and the housing that is available. The issue was not just finding the right places to live, but also finding the right supports. They wrote, “Adults, including those with intellectual disabilities, usually want to live independently. They want to make their own decisions on whom to live with, where to live, and what to do with their time. People with intellectual disabilities face extra challenges in working towards that goal, however…” These challenges include limited financial resources, limited support services, an inflexible service system, and fears and questions about safety.

Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, announces Canada's national housing strategy.


In 2018, the Canadian government recognized this challenge of appropriate housing for all persons with disabilities in Canada’s National Housing Strategy – A Place to Call Home. “People with disabilities face unique challenges in accessing affordable and appropriate housing. Inadequate social supports, insufficient financial assistance and inaccessibility of housing units all contribute to the difficulties they may face in their quest to live independently. People with disabilities are more than twice as likely to live on low incomes as those without a disability…”

Developing Inclusive Housing

The 2006 CMHC paper named best practices for housing for persons with intellectual disabilities: flexibility and choice, individualized funding, and person-centred approaches. And it named housing models that it could recommend as best practices including independent living, co-ops and other forms of co-housing, and (for those with the means) home ownership or adaption of a family home. These remain among the key options being explored today.

A report by the Community Living BC and Inclusion BC Inclusive Housing Task Force, “Home is where our story begins,” lays out a plan to increase what it calls “inclusive” housing. “Inclusive Housing means that people live in homes where they feel they are a part of their communities. They participate and have relationships with people in their community and have opportunities to make contributions and receive recognition. Inclusive housing should provide people with a sense of home and belonging within their community and promote quality of life. Inclusive housing includes the following five elements: Choice and control, Accessibility, Ratio of people with and without disabilities, Diversity, and Sustainability.”

The Canadian Association for Community Living and People First of Canada are leading a national initiative to develop housing options. “My Home My Community (MHMC) has launched three surveys to get a better idea of what it takes to give people with developmental disabilities more choice in the kind of housing they live in. Together, we are confronting the path of dependence and barriers to access that have left people with intellectual disabilities outside of affordable housing markets and community access for generations.”

L’Arche has much to learn – and much to contribute

Over the past decade, L’Arche Ontario and L’Arche Canada have been in dialogue with Greg Bechard whose work with the Elmira Developmental Support Corporation was named in the National Housing Strategy as an example of an innovative model of independent yet supported housing for persons with intellectual disabilities. Greg speaks of creating “intentional community” by welcoming Good Neighbours to be part of the housing they have built and the community they are creating. We will write more on this important project and the concept of intentional community as a way to create inclusive housing.

The Vanier Suites illustrate the direction of the L’Arche Canada Growth Initiative. This project and others in various stages of development are bringing the Mission of L’Arche to life in new ways, “responding to the changing needs of our members (current and potential) while being faithful to the core values of our founding story.” This means learning from the experience of those in L’Arche communities (e.g. Arnprior and Stratford) who provide Supported Independent Living. And learning from the Elmira folks and others developing new forms of housing and the business models necessary to develop them. It also means discerning what is essential about the vision and values of L’Arche that must be renewed as we innovate and grow.

While it’s clear that we have a lot to learn, L’Arche also has a lot to contribute to the conversation about building inclusive communities. In fact, that 2006 CMHC paper also named the L’Arche model. “L’Arche was the only group home that was identified as a best practice. L’Arche homes exist in a number of provinces. All are faith-based, geared to aging in place, and feature employees who function more like family members than staff.”

Traditional L’Arche homes where persons with and without intellectual disabilities live, learn, and grow together remain an innovative housing model – as long as they remain places of welcome, are person-centred, nurture mutual relationships and interdependence, and create inclusion in the wider community.

Developing a wider range of options and person-centred planning is key to ensuring that each person has meaningful choice of where they live and the opportunity to follow their dreams. Like Katherine, most of us want to grow to our full potential and have a healthy amount of personal space and control, yet also have strong relationships with our neighbours and the people who know and love us. That’s the recipe for an inclusive community.


The Accessible Canada Act awaits final vote in the House

L’Arche Canada has written Minister Qualtrough, emailed all Members of Parliament, and signed onto the Open Letter with many national and provincial disabilities organizations.

Program on the abuse of religious women in the Church airs in Canada

L’Arche Canada reiterates our deep compassion for the victims of abuse and our commitment to a zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment and abuse.

L’Arche Greater Vancouver launches ‘We All Belong’ campaign

The $30 million project to build a fully-accessible, three-story building is the organization’s most ambitious dream in its 45-year history.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities visits Canada

Ms Devandas Aguilar was invited by the Government of Canada and visited 5 cities across Canada looking at themes related to the articles of the CRPD.

Jordan Hart introduces “L’Arche Sundays” to his 100-day busking challenge

“I have never learned how to love more purely and profoundly than through people with intellectual disabilities.”

Dr Pamela Cushing, friend of L’Arche, to receive Tanis Doe Award

This award honours an individual who dares to “speak the unspeakable” in advancing the study and culture of disability, and who has enriched through research, teaching, or activism the lives of Canadians with disabilities.

Accidental Friends: Stories from My Life in Community

This book by Beth Porter, long-time member of L’Arche Daybreak, will be available soon in North America.

Families in Canada Conference 2019

The Vanier Institute of the Family held the Families in Canada Conference 2019, gathering leaders to deepen understanding of family diversity, expedite research to practise and enhance family well-being.

Commemorating the 10th Anniversary of the Closure of the Institutions in Ontario

Flying to Freedom was presented by institutional survivors, People First of Ontario, the Council of Community Living Ontario, Community Living Ontario, the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre, and L’Arche Toronto.

Zoom Media produces the official video for the Quebec week of intellectual disabilities 2019

It was Zoom Media’s inclusive team that prepared the content, filmed the video clip and edited it, accompanied by the Approprimage team.

Conference on love and inclusion

L’Arche Agapè will host a public conference on inclusion at the Université du Québec en Outaouais on March 21, 2019.

Federal Budget continues Ready, Willing, and Able Across Canada

“This investment allows RWA to continue working toward the vision of an inclusive and effective labour market with an employment rate for people with intellectual disabilities and ASD on par with the national average.”

Québec Recruitment Campaign

New recruitment video online!

BROKEN: Institutions, Families, and the Construction Intellectual Disability

A new book by Madeline Burghardt, long-time member and former assistant of L’Arche Toronto and L’Arche Daybreak.

Mon Ami Gil returns!

Following the success of Mon Ami Gil in the spring of 2018, a new series of short videos will delve more deeply into the story of Gil Frois – how he came to be the man he is today, sharing his life and gifts within L’Arche Agapè in Gatineau, QC, and in the other places where he belongs in the wider community.

Michael McDonald Speaking Tour

In four L’Arche communities in Alberta and Saskatchewan in the next two weeks

Bringing the VPS into 2019

From the Vulnerable Persons Secretariat

L’Arche Tova Café in the News

L’Arche Tova Café is featured in a review of 27 cafes that are social purpose businesses employing persons with disabilities across Canada.

L’Arche Beloeil becomes L’Arche Montérégie

On December 10, L’Arche Beloeil announced that it was becoming L’Arche Montérégie. The choice to make this big change was made to educate people across the region about their cause.

Measuring the Impact of Federal Legislation to Promote Inclusion

On December 3, the International Day of Person with Disabilities, L’Arche Canada participated in the 9th annual Federal Policy Forum on Inclusion hosted by the Canadian Association of Community Living and People First of Canada.

Canada accedes to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Accession to the Optional Protocol means that Canadians will have additional recourse to make a complaint to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, if they believe their rights under the Convention have been violated.

I Believe in You

“This book brings something new and surprising (...) I hope each reader can discover in a new way what it means to be human.” – Jean Vanier, from the foreword

Accessible Canada Act passed third reading

L’Arche Canada has joined the Federal Accessibility Legislation Alliance (FALA) and supports its recommended changes.

Le Sacrement de la Tendresse (the Sacrament of Tenderness) a new film about Jean Vanier

One of the film’s assets is the enthusiasm of the director, whose strength of conviction is real.

Letter from Jean, October 2018

“90 years old! My God, I can scarcely believe it. I have such a desire to shout out my thanks!”

Louis Pilotte, new National Leader

“From my very first days in L’Arche, I was convinced that I was living an experience that was part of a project for society, part of a vision of the world.”

New Community Leaders in Saint John and Wolfville

… and celebrating Homefires Community Leader Ingrid Blais

Second Reading for Accessible Canada Act

The Accessible Canada Act (ACA) legislation to ensure a barrier-free Canada

L’Arche Canada Foundation’s Fall 2018 Impact Bulletin

Top Story: Support for L’Arche Lithuania

Canada’s Medical Assistance in Dying Regulations Fall Short

September 6, 2018 – L’Arche Canada supports the Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL) and the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) in urging the federal government to strengthen the system of monitoring Medical Assistance in Dying.

A new Community Leader for L’Arche Daybreak

L’Arche Canada and the Board of Directors present Trish Glennon, as the new Community Leader for L’Arche Daybreak

L’Arche Saskatoon’s 10th Anniversary video is amazing!

To celebrate their first ten years, L’Arche Saskatoon produced a wonderful 8-min video on “What is community?”

Third Interim Report on Medical Assistance in Dying in Canada

The Government of Canada has released the third Interim Report on Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) in Canada (July 1 to December 31, 2017)

Minister Duncan introduces the proposed Accessible Canada Act

June 20, 2018 – This historic legislation would enable the Government of Canada to take a proactive approach to end systemic discrimination of people with disabilities.

L’Arche Canada Newsletter Summer 2018

“Community is built as we become interdependent, humbly recognizing and welcoming our need of one another.”

Letter from Jean, May 2018

“Every day, I take a walk in my little garden, with my eyes looking down because I have to be careful where I walk: this means I notice the primroses.”

L’Arche Canada Foundation’s Spring 2018 Impact Bulletin

Top Story: L’Arche Toronto’s Trying It On For Size (TIFS) project for young people with intellectual disabilities

Summer in the Forest is coming to Canada

“Summer in the Forest is an extraordinarily tender documentary that asks what it means to be human. Here, even the most gentle scenes raise mighty questions.” (New York Times)

The Courage to Listen and Speak Out

As part of the campaign on fundamental values, the L’Arche Canada communications team recently published an online, illustrated account of a person who has lived through abuse. In very simple words, the account expresses a universal reality, the truth that not being heard is a source of immense suffering.

Jean Vanier Interview on CNN

Christiane Amanpour interviews Jean Vanier following the release of Summer in the Forest

First Nations – The Courage to Meet Face to Face

At L’Arche, we are all experimenting with what it means to find “the courage to truly meet difference.” We are on this journey whether we’re encountering a new person, or group, or any culture other than our own.

“Nineteen Paper Cranes”, a Film in Homage to the victims of Sagamihara, Japan

L’Arche International is launching the 9th film in its #AsIAm web series, filmed at L’Arche in Japan, in homage to the 19 victims of the Sagamihara massacre.

Growing as we Learn: The L’Arche Canada Growth Initiative

“A learning organization is an organization skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge, and at modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights.” – Harvard Business Review

Leadership Spring Trainings take off

The L’Arche Canada leadership development has entered a major new phase. After years introducing a model based on the core values of L’Arche and tools for reviews and team building, a comprehensive formation and training program – through over 100 online training modules – is being delivered across the country.

Communicating the Work of Outreach and Communications

It has been a challenging year of transition in the L’Arche Canada Outreach and Communications team and its work. As we move forward, new initiatives and new partnerships are emerging that promise increased impact in this important work.

Contributing Our Voices

On February 8, members of L’Arche attended an “in person” session of the accessibility consultation, as several L’Arche folk from other communities had done in their cities.

Meeting with the Minister

On April 6, 2017, representatives of L’Arche Canada met with the Hon. Qualtrough, Minister of Sports and Persons with Disabilities, to share our hopes and concerns – and express our gratitude and support – for new federal, accessibility legislation.

Revelations of Abuse in Trosly, France

In a letter dated March 24, 2015, the Leaders of L’Arche International informed the communities of L’Arche around the world of the results of a canonical (Church) inquiry into accounts of sexual abuse by Père Thomas Philippe who was involved in the beginnings of the first community of L’Arche in Trosly. (Père Thomas died in 1993 so there was no trial.)

Love at Second Sight

AboutFace, an organization providing supports to individuals with facial differences and their families, as well as public awareness and education to increase understanding and acceptance, recently hosted the Toronto premiere of this powerful film that transforms attitudes about appearance and encourages students to accept themselves and others. It’s about difference and belonging, judgment and inclusion.

What does an Accessible Canada mean to you?

The Government of Canada has launched a consultation process that will be open until February 2017. Canadians are encouraged to participate in the consultation by visiting:

L’Arche Canada response to Bill C-14’s

In response to the Supreme Court’s ruling on Physician-Assisted Dying, and as the Federal Government works on drafting legislation on this issue, L’Arche in Canada has re-committed itself to providing the best possible supports for the people with intellectual disabilities in our communities, both in life and as they approach death.

Jean Vanier: Logician of the Heart

An excellent new book on Jean Vanier by Michael W. Higgins is available from Novalis.