By Alex Lytwyn, for CBC News Posted: Sep 09, 2014 5:00 AM CTLast Updated: Sep 09, 2014 5:00 AM CT
Alex Lytwyn, 28, lives with cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, but he has not felt limited by his disability. He graduated from Assiniboine Community College in Brandon, Man., and has written two books in the past three years. (Supplied photo)
After graduating from high school, I decided that it was time for me to move on and get my post-secondary education. So I ventured out to the city of Brandon.
My time in the city was really enjoyable. My living situation in Brandon was great. I had my own accessible apartment at Kiwanis Courts. It was fantastic and gave me the opportunity to see what living on my own was really like.
Through hard work and lots of effort I graduated. After this life-changing experience was achieved, I decided to move back home.
“Home Sweet Home,” right? Wrong. It was more like “Home Sweet no Home.”
Being a young adult who wanted to move home and start his own business, you would think this would be encouraged, right? Wrong.
‘I really started to question my move back to my hometown. All this time I felt like I was being punished for having a disability.’– Alex Lytwyn
In the community of Winnipegosis, there is a lot of low-rental housing. Since I’m on a fixed income, my family and I thought this would be a logical choice for me. We approached the government asking them if they would make one of their houses “wheelchair friendly.” The answer was a big NO!
Not wanting to give up without a fight, my mother found another government program that sounded right for me. This program was based for a larger scale, i.e. 10 apartments or more, so it didn’t pertain to me.
It was starting to look like my only other option was going to have to be moving into to the local personal care home. Being a young enthusiastic adult with a bright young mind, I didn’t feel this was the right place for me.
Now, don’t get me wrong — I have nothing against personal care homes; they’re a great thing. It’s just that putting someone my age there is not right.
By being put into one those homes, my role in the community would be greatly diminished. I wanted to move back home and run my own life, and by moving into one of these homes, this wouldn’t be accomplished.
Another option, more obstacles
Being turned down once again didn’t stop us from pursuing a home for me. After a ton of research and phone calls, we found another program called the Rural Housing Initiative. This sounded great because they would renovate the building for people with disabilities.
About halfway through the request, we were notified that you had to own the building before they would help you. Living in a small town of 650 people, there are not very many empty buildings that are in good enough shape to convert. Luckily, there was an empty grocery store that was for sale.
So my parents, being the wonderful people that they are, bought this building. Having enough room to make two separate apartments, my parents wanted to make two wheelchair-accessible housing units.
Later on in this process, we found out that because I was “family,” they would not cover any of the cost of my apartment. All they would cover is the apartment in which I was not living.
It was like having a family who wanted to see their oldest son succeed was completely frowned upon. So once again, my parents had to take money out of their own pocket in order for this project to continue.
Now with my parents’ costs riding up into the $60,000 range, things were finally starting to take shape. After spending more than a year’s salary, my parents and I finally realized that I was going to have a home in the town I dearly love.
During this time, I really started to question my move back to my hometown. All this time I felt like I was being punished for having a disability.
I was a young person who wanted to move back to a rural area and start a new life. When I was in Brandon, everything went very smoothly, but this was the complete opposite.
It’s real funny to me how they’re always trying to promote rural Manitoba. Why would a person with a disability want to go through all that hassle?
Trapping people in the city?
When you go to a centre like Winnipeg, Portage la Prairie or Brandon, it is a lot different. There’s plenty of housing. Now sure, it might not be the greatest location or the best situation, but at least you don’t have to spend more than a year’s salary on your home. There are plenty of different options for a person.
It’s almost like the government is trying to trap you in the city.
What really frightens me is this: while I have the love and support of a wonderful family that wants to help me, what about the people who are by themselves or do not have the financial capability of doing what we had to do? How many of these people are getting left in the dark and having to fend for themselves? Something has to change!
The first thing would be, of course, more funding for housing. If not that, then at least someone out there who can show you which programs are available.
Another thing that really makes me think is how there is so much more funding for those with mental disabilities than those with physical disabilities. I know this might sound like a very harsh statement, but I do have evidence to back this up.
Just recently in Dauphin, they built a brand new home for people with mental disabilities. It has everything a person could want.
As another example, there is a beautiful home for people with mental disabilities here in Winnipegosis. They have their own day program and very nice living quarters along with 24-hour staffing, which helps them with all aspects of living, and it’s all government-funded.
Yet the government will not promote independent living for those with physical disabilities. Why, I have no idea, but hopefully this will make them see that we are part of society, too, and we deserve to have the same opportunities as everyone else.