When Gwen Dey took guardianship of Charity Purtteman as a foster child, it took “lots of love” to help her overcome years of neglect and abuse.

Like many aging parents of disabled adults, Dey worries about what will happen to Charity, who is now 31 but still has the mental capacity of a child, when she is gone.

“We have to teach her that we won’t always be around,” Dey said Thursday.

Thanks to a partnership between a housing opportunity nonprofit and a local supportive care provider, Kelso now has two new duplexes to help four disabled adults, including Charity, live safely and as independently as possible.

Options for Supported Housing, an Ohio-based nonprofit, recently built the two duplexes on Mill Street in Kelso specifically designated for low-income residents with severe developmental disabilities.

“What happens with people with developmental disabilities (is) a lot of times they’ve lived at home for years,” said Options for Supported Housing Executive Director Kathy Streblo. “When the family members begin to age and become elderly, it becomes clear they need another living arrangement.”

Supported Housing has houses in 10 other states, including 36 in Washington. It is partnering here with Life Works, which will provide around-the-clock staffing support for the four women.

“The main focus of Life Works is to help remove barriers that keep people from being able to participate in their communities,” Life Works Executive Director David Hill said.

Another new duplex resident will be Kalene Swingler, the 23-year-old daughter of Kellie Swingler, who is moving out of residency at a different Life Works building. Her daughter has improved under the 24-hour care she’s had there, but the new living arrangements will give her daughter more personal space and new appliances, Kellie Swingler said.

“This is more of a personal setting with their own living space,” she said. “And they don’t always have to be with their roommates.”

The project was funded by the City of Kelso, the Federal Home Loan Bank and the State Housing Trust Fund. Adam Trimble, who oversees grant funding from the Longview-Kelso HOME consortium, said the city’s contribution of about $55,000 came from Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds.

The duplexes are developed to efficiency and environmental standards, Trimble said. Features include bright new countertops, smooth wooden cupboards and extra-wide doors and tile floors for wheelchair accessibility.

Options for Supported Housing has guaranteed the complexes will provide housing for low-income residents with special needs for the next 40 years, Trimble said. Rent for the homes is set at 30 percent of the tenants’ income, which is typically about $800 a month.

“People with developmental disabilities are generally speaking a low-income population,” Life Works Executive Director Hill said. “They rely on Social Security as their primary source of income. ... Any chance they get for subsidized housing is a real opportunity to participate in their community.”

Kristy Coons, program coordinator with Life Works, said the program finds ways for clients to be involved in their community with trips to dances, the movies, the beach, water parks and events put on by the city parks and recreation department.

“They strive to be like anybody else. So why not help them live like anybody else?” Coons said.


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