The sound of hammers and saws coming soon to a vacant Reseda, Calif. lot means that someone like Stephanie Sullivan will have a home where she will be cared for and her needs understood.

Come January, Sullivan, who has Down syndrome, will move into the new home built by New Horizons, a San Fernando Valley nonprofit that helps those with developmental disabilities learn life skills, find employment and receive housing.

Sullivan will live there with five other residents such as herself, who are all facing their senior years with early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

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It is a rising but unanticipated trend for a population who once lived only until their 30s. The reality is a concern for both parents of older children with intellectual disabilities and those who run specialized programs and services for them.

“I’m getting calls from all over the country, all over the state, from people asking me when the home will open,” said Roschell Ashley, chief operating officer for New Horizons.

“There are so many families who want this for their sibling or for their child, who have been waiting,” Ashley added. “One woman is willing to relocate her entire family. These types of homes are not available, and the demand is great.”

Last month, Ashley and other New Horizons officials joined community leaders for a groundbreaking ceremony, as they stuck shovels into the dirt to symbolize the start of construction on the six-bedroom, $1.6 million place.

Plans for the home began in 2008, and former Los Angeles City Councilman Dennis Zine helped New Horizons receive funding from the now defunct Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency to buy the land.

Other monies came from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and various local foundations.

Still, as soon as they finish building this modified home, they will surely need more, Ashley said.

Those with Down syndrome or other developmental disabilities are living longer thanks to medications, better care and increased training and opportunities. And by the time they reach their 40s, the population has a 25 percent greater chance of developing Alzheimer’s, said Susan Galeas, president and CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association, California Southland Chapter.

“Clearly, we’re all living longer lives,” Galeas said. “This is why we support housing like this, which is so critical for our community.”

At the same time, services for the California’s roughly 280,000 individuals with developmental disabilities has been declining since the 1990s, according to a recent report by the Association of Regional Center Agencies.

The group home on Arminta Street will be the first of its kind in Southern California — and likely in all the West, Ashley said. Although other programs operate homes with some modifications for aging residents with developmental disabilities, this one from New Horizons is exclusively for seniors with Down syndrome.

John Bunzel, chairman of the board for New Horizons, called the residence a milestone. It’s New Horizons’ 13th group home but the first of its kind for those with Alzheimer’s. The organization was formed in 1954.

“We’re positioned to be the leaders in what’s going to become a bigger issue,” Bunzel said.

As its clients age, New Horizons has noticed that its group homes were not adequate for elder clients with Alzheimer’s and dementia. And while not all of the 1,000 clients served by the agency have Down syndrome, well more than half are 40 and over.

Rose Weiss, president of the Reseda Ranch Housing Corp., said her 59-year-old daughter has been a resident of one of the group homes for 37 years and also works in the agency’s workshop.

“I know the quality that New Horizons has,” she said. “The clients have gained a good life.”

© 2015 Los Angeles Daily News
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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