Housing needed: Part 1

Marie Havenga • Jul 21, 2015 at 2:05 PM

According to experts, Ottawa County has less than 20 percent of the affordable housing units that its population needs.

Jill Oosterbaan knows that firsthand. She’s been living in a wheelchair since she was a teenager and has had a difficult time finding suitable housing in the area.

Her needs? Affordability, wheelchair access and reliable care.

But that package doesn’t seem to exist locally, she says, especially one that allows animals — her service dog, Divvy, is a constant companion.

Lakeshore Housing Alliance Coordinator Lyn Raymond doesn’t disagree with Oosterbaan. As an expert in the field, she also knows there’s a mansion-size need for affordable housing locally.

Today, the Tribune presents both of their viewpoints — and both of their hopes that, through networking and brainstorming, they can lay the foundation for more housing choices in the near future.

CLICK HERE to read Part 2: "Housing official agrees it is a problem."

Disabled woman laments the lack of housing

By Jill Oosterbaan, Special to the Tribune

There is a group of our population who fall through the cracks of existing housing options. That group includes those who are younger/middle-age adults with significant physical disabilities; and I, Jill Oosterbaan, am a case in point.

I have searched for many years for housing in the Tri-Cities area that would provide for my unique needs, but to no avail. I have lived with my parents in our remodeled home for most of my life. This has been a blessing, but my aging parents need relief from the many responsibilities, and I need to find a way to live as independently as possible.

I use a power wheelchair and have a beloved service dog who is a big help to me and a faithful companion. My needs include affordability, wheelchair accessibility and reliable care.

I am an active and productive member of our community. I currently work part-time as a first-grade teacher assistant at Grand Haven Christian School and love my job. I also serve in children’s ministries at my church.

I was diagnosed with severe juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at 3 years old. By age 12, I was using a wheelchair most of the time, and by mid-teens I was using the wheelchair full-time and not able to bear any weight on my legs. Because of damage from the disease, I have very limited range of motion in all of my joints and deal with chronic pain.

I graduated from Spring Lake High School and then attended Calvin College, where I received a degree in elementary/special education. After college, I moved back home with my parents in Spring Lake.

For several years, I worked with my mother in her home day care business, and also did some part-time tutoring. We assumed that, when the time was right, we would find the right place for me to live independently, although we knew it would be a challenge. Time went by and my family and I faced a variety of serious medical challenges.

One of these challenges was a pedestrian/vehicle accident in which I was hit by a car in my wheelchair while taking a walk with my service dog in October 2000. Both of my arms were broken and I went through a long recovery, including shoulder replacement surgery a few years after the accident.

After taking the time necessary to cope with and recover from various health and family issues, my parents and I became more serious about finding a place for me to live on my own.

We have looked at several barrier-free apartments for people with low income in the Tri-Cities area, which are few and far between. In fact, there is only one such apartment complex in Grand Haven. It is called Despelder Place, which is run by HHI Management, and it has a very long waiting list. I have been on that waiting list for several years now.

Also, even though they are labeled as “barrier-free,” none of these apartments have certain accessibility features I need — such as a roll-in shower, open/roll-under sinks and kitchen modifications.

We have considered group homes in the area, but I’ve been told by Community Mental Health that these homes are not appropriate for me.

I have learned about other housing models and facilities that looked exciting and promising at first, only to be disappointed that they would not work out for me for various reasons. These include David’s House and Olivia’s Gift in Grand Rapids, and Benjamin’s Hope in Holland. They are not suitable for my disability, have extremely long waiting lists — usually five or more years — and they are located in other cities.

With my job, church, family and friends being here in the Tri-Cities, I want to be able to stay in this community. The only other option is assisted living or nursing homes, which are designed for the elderly and therefore not the right fit for someone at my age and stage in life. Just like anyone else, I want to be with peers of varying ages and with whom I can relate.

With the determination I have always had to muster, and my faith in God which gives me strength, I have been researching and talking to many people in my quest to find or even possibly help create the right place to live. One idea would be to build a large home or remodel an existing home, where several people with disabilities could live and share expenses and responsibilities.

Another plan could be to have some affordable, barrier-free units built or renovated, such as condos, duplexes or apartments. These options might also address the need for caregivers, allowing them to live with or near the residents.

At this point, I need to connect with other adults with physical disabilities in the Tri-Cities area who have a similar need and interest. The goal right now is collaboration, discussion and networking to try to come up with possible solutions.

Please e-mail me directly at housinghopes@gmail.com if you or a loved one has this need, or if you are interested in helping with this endeavor in any way. Also, look up the Facebook page I created called “Housing Hopes and Dreams,” and participate in the discussion there.

I feel optimistic about future possibilities. Our community is a wonderful and beautiful place, with so much to offer, and we need to give everyone an equal chance to live and work here.

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