One of the biggest fears for parents of adults with disabilities is what will happen to their loved ones when caregivers die.

“Living at home isn’t going to work forever,” said Pam Blanton, founder of Partners4Housing, a Seattle company that helps people with disabilities live more independently.

More than 70 percent of young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, or 3.6 million people, live with a caretaker who is a family member. In one in four of those living arrangements, the caregiver is older than 60, according to a 2017 University of Colorado study.

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With a national shortage of care providers and long waiting lists at group homes, families need to get creative to find safe and affordable housing solutions, advocates say.

Blanton started the company’s roommate matching service in 2013 to help families find compatible roommates for their children with autism and other developmental disabilities.

“Finding a roommate for anyone can be a challenge and finding a roommate for a person who also needs a more substantial safety net … is even more challenging,” said Mary Sheehan, whose son found a roommate through Partners4Housing. “It can be tricky to vet the other person as well as to admit to some quirky behaviors that those outside the disability community may not understand.” 

Another company in Minnesota created a roommate matching service in 2018 to pair people with disabilities with typically-developing caregivers, but Partners4Housing’s service is believed to be the first of its kind in the U.S. Blanton believes it can be replicated nationwide.

“It’s a huge crisis as parents are aging and state services aren’t keeping up,” Blanton said. “What we do is help families figure out things on their own without help from the government.”

The roommates share living expenses and the costs of a live-in or visiting caregiver. Roommate pairing also helps avoid loneliness and isolation, Blanton said.

The service recently expanded beyond the Seattle area to all of Washington state plus Phoenix, where Partners4Housing teamed with another company, Luna Azul, which offers homes for sale in a community for people with disabilities.

At least 60 roommates have gotten settled into new living arrangements in Washington with help from Partners4Housing. Ten roommates have been matched in the Phoenix area since the service’s January 2019 launch there, Blanton said. The matched roommates range in age from 18 to 60 and live in apartments, homes or other types of housing such as mother-in-law units.

All of the roommates have some type of physical or developmental disability including autism. They are matched in two- or three-person housing arrangements, with some needing an extra bedroom for a full-time caregiver. Others need a few hours of outside support each week.

Each potential roommate must apply to be included in the matching service. The first step, which costs $300, involves a 127-question survey to determine a potential roommate’s favorite activities, support needs and what services including Medicaid and Social Security they may already be using. The families follow up with a consultation about their resources.

Blanton said that many of the families she works with are not familiar with all of the government and nonprofit funding and services that are available to them.

Those who are a good fit for the service then create a profile and can send messages to other families looking for roommates.

When a match is made, Partners4Housing helps develop household budgets and work through the caregiver hiring process.

“Every house is different, we just help families figure out what they need to do to set up a home that best meets the needs of their loved ones,” Blanton said. “The need is huge and families want to find a solution.”