That is how Butch Batchelor summed up a recent life-changing event that occurred to his 29-year-old daughter Taryn, who is living with autism and has relied on her parents all her adult life.
She moved in to her own apartment last week.
That simple act was a big deal for Taryn and her family on so many levels, as Batchelor and his ex-wife Berni discussed Thursday from their daughter’s two-bedroom suite in the Aspen, a newly built 145-unit rental housing building at Sixth Avenue and Main Street in Vancouver.
After years of agonizing with other parents over how their autistic children would survive as adults — with the reality that mom and dad won’t be around forever — Butch and Berni were clearly moved by Taryn’s good fortune.
“I’m going to get upset,” said Butch, whose daughter had either lived with him or his ex-wife until the big move.
“Don’t cry,” Berni said.
“Sorry, I’m in shock,” he continued.
Through determination and a bit of happenstance, the former couple got connected with PALS Adult Services Society, which in turn hooked up with Catalyst Community Developments, the non-profit builder of the Aspen.
An agreement was reached to include 16 suites in the building for people living with autism and other developmental disabilities to live independently — depending on the level of support required — while being connected to a community.
The project was inspired by a generous donation from the Morris and Helen Belkin Foundation, while the building itself was built on land provided by the City of Vancouver and completed with a $48.5 low-cost loan from the federal government.
The nine-storey building also includes a health centre on the ground floor.
No other housing complex of its kind in Metro Vancouver
All involved don’t know of another complex of its kind in Metro Vancouver — or the rest of the province, for that matter — where so many people living with autism share a building with other residents.
“Not only is it affordable housing, and it’s in a great community, but there’s the community of [Taryn’s] special needs adult friends within this vibrant place — and that’s critical to have that built-in network,” said Berni, noting her daughter’s childhood friend, Casey, who also lives with autism, is a tenant in the building.
Butch credited Casey’s parents, Douglas and Liz Cochrane, and others for their years-long push to find housing for people living with autism. At one time, the group of parents considered buying a series of apartments in a building for their children.
The “we’re super lucky” response from Butch is based on what he estimates are thousands of parents in B.C. searching and struggling to find appropriate accommodation for their autistic adult children.
“Many of them have been put in situations that are not right for them because there is no other option,” he said, noting some adults with autism can live alone, while others like his daughter needed to find a roommate. “Our hope is that Taryn can be completely independent one day, but she’s still not there.”
Taryn’s apartment is large and welcoming, with a balcony that faces Main Street. It rents for about $1,700 per month. Taryn’s share is in the low hundreds, after accounting for a combination of subsidies from government and PALS, along with splitting the rent with her roommate, a UBC student.
Taryn wasn’t home at the time of her parents’ visit because she was at Kerrisdale Lumber, where she has helped clean and stock shelves for more than 10 years.
The mere mention of the company’s owners — the Perry family — caused Butch to get emotional, noting how grateful again he is of people who continue to help his daughter.
Taryn’s friend Casey also works there.
Asked what Taryn’s reaction was when she moved in to her apartment, Berni scrolled through her iPhone to show a photograph of her daughter holding up a set of keys and a huge grin on her face.
“Look how excited she looks,” Berni said.
Lauren Crum, the housing coordinator for PALS, and Maura Chestnutt, vice-president of strategic initiatives at Catalyst, were both present in the suite to hear the relief and excitement in Taryn’s parents’ voices.
It was visible validation of the efforts of Crum and Chestnutt — and PALS’ John McCullough and Catalyst’s Robert Brown — who want to see more initiatives of its kind.
Tenants have 'community connector' to help them
“This is our pilot project and we’re thrilled with the results,” said Crum, noting Taryn and others will have access to a person described as a "community connector," whose role is to help tenants with outings such as a bike ride or visit to a community centre.
Chestnutt noted how Taryn and other tenants living with autism were purposely not all put on the same floor, with integration being key to building a wider community in the building.
“I’m super excited and I really want the story to get out that this can be done, and that it’s not scary or a really big deal in some ways — just more ordinary,” she said.