Liberty works to tailor houses for the disabled

John Minckler, 30, Jesse Markes, 21, and Dan Greco, 23, are housemates. Minckler likes fantasy book

John Minckler, 30, Jesse Markes, 21, and Dan Greco, 23, are housemates.

Minckler likes fantasy books, music and art, and his bedroom is decorated with posters of dragons. Markes likes the New York Jets, and his green bedroom walls match his New York Jets bedspread. Greco’s blue room is decorated with pictures of his mom, dad and dog Chloe.

The one piece of common furniture in each of the three bedrooms is a specialized desk made by California Closets. The desks are designed to accommodate the mobility needs of each resident. All three of the young men have a form of cerebral palsy and are restricted to motorized wheelchairs.

They all live in one of Liberty’s new individualized residential alternative (IRA) houses at 60 Wesleyan Ave. Liberty, an organization providing programs and services for individuals with disabilities, has been working for the past few years to create more IRA housing situations for its clients and to downsize or “rightsize” the housing arrangements it has with between 10 and 12 individuals living together.

“Our mission was to have everyone have their own room, live closer to where they work if they so desire and be involved in deciding who they live with,” said Jerry Gallup, Liberty’s director of residential programs.

Gallup said Liberty was moving “aggressively” on its path to downsize its housing situations — the organization opened three homes last year. But the process has slowed because the state “retired” the funding source that allowed Liberty to purchase and build new homes.

Minckler, who is a member of Liberty’s residential committee, said the home where he lives is down the street from a 10-bed house on Van Dyke Avenue.

“We have 42 residential locations ranging from one-person, supportive-type homes to, I hate to say it, 12-person homes,” Gallup said.

Liberty’s goal is to create more homes with no more than four individuals each. The organization is in the process of purchasing a house at 10 Catherine St. for two women who are currently living in an apartment complex.

Barbara Wool, Liberty’s director of public relations and development, said Liberty’s goal to downsize homes is another way of giving its clients more choices. The individual is able to choose his or her housemates and decorate his or her living spaces, especially the bedrooms, and the home can be tailored to the individuals’ specific needs.

“They pick the color of their walls and the carpeting they want put in because without their involvement, it’s not really their home,” Wool said.

Besides designing and decorating their different bedrooms, the three men on Wesleyan Avenue had input into the architectural plans of the house because it was built new.

Gallup said the smaller environment allows Liberty to place together people with similar disabilities and creates less of a staffing need because there is less noise and activity in each house. In the larger homes, Liberty generally has two staff members per resident, but in the smaller homes, the ratio can be less.

“The reality is the staff have more of a chance to deal with an individual’s needs because the setting is quieter and more homelike,” Gallup said.

Minckler, who moved to Wesleyan Avenue from a house where he lived with another family, said he enjoys having his own space.

“There are days when we need separation from each other,” he said.

It is costly to create more housing. Gallup said the state allows Liberty to spend no more than $75,000 per individual to purchase or build a home and $5,000 per person to make modifications to the house so it’s equipped for the residents’ needs.

“Our greatest opportunity right now is downsizing, but our greatest threat would be not knowing where the money is coming from,” Gallup said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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