By Chandra Yorke
Ferns sit in the corner of the windowless room, nurtured by the fluorescent lights. The walls are Unadorned, their whiteness amplified by the flood of artificial brightness.
A cluttered desk and filing cabinet fill the small room, making it look like any other office. But to develop mentally handicapped people in Scarborough, it’s not just another office, but a place where they can “obtain the help they need to become independent.
The room, located within Centennial College’s Warden Woods campus, houses the Adult Protective Services, a service that works with other agencies to help developmen-tally handicapped people find housing, jobs or anything they need to live independently in the community.
Theresa Mete, the sole worker in Warden Woods’ APS, said the handicapped people contact her, and depending on their need, she refers them to the proper service agency.
“All my clients have different needs,” she said, “and we try to meet their needs to increase independence.”
Mete, a small, dark-haired woman, said that her clients often have more than one problem.
For example, if a pregnant woman was living in subsidized housing and couldn’t afford the rent, they would first talk to the landlord about lowering the rent or they would find her more affordable housing, Mete said.
APS helps the woman find cheap baby furniture and clothes and then make sure she visits a doctor, she said.
Through this process, Mete insists that the client be a willing participant in the changes.
“We work in a partner relationship,” she said. “I don’t do things for them, I do things with them.”
Mete said the people she helps are developmentally handicapped and may be able to cook, shop and clean, but have a slow learning process.
“They can learn,” she said, “but how much they can learn is the problem.”
Her present workload is 30-40 cases and she said more than 300 people are on the waiting list.
Because some peoplewait up two years for service, Mete said APS can only help on a short term basis.
“The goal is that it be no longer than a one to two year involvement.”
Before coming to the APS at Centennial College in 1984, Mete graduated from Humber College in 1980, from a program similar to Centennial’s social service worker program.
Mete said that while Centennial is not the only college to house an APS, she feels the school is a good location for the students, her clients and the college itself.
Mete said that when the college was first approached by the Ministry of Community and Social Services to open the program, the school was “concerned” about the effects. But now, its’ success and community awareness about the developmentally handicapped, has made the program a good public relations aspect of the college.
“They are proving to the community that they’re not just educating, but also serving,” she said.
Having the APS shielded inside a school, Mete said, is a benefit for her clients, allowing them to escape the stigma attached to visiting the usual social services buildings.
“We are no longer labelling our clients,” she said “Before, just to walk in the front door, they labelled themselves.”
She also said the educational atmosphere, created by the school encourages her clients to consider taking up-grading courses, and they enj oy the chance to come to see students who pay for their education.
“They get such a kick when they have something to do with a prestigious agency in a college,” she said.
For the students, Mete said the APS answers their general questions, or problems they might have with a developmentally handicapped friend, neighbor or family member.
She said the agency can also provide placement opportunities for students in the social service worker or developmental worker program.
Although the APS doesn’t have a placement student this year, Mete said” that past students have helped with the group’s social club, a recreational outlet for clients who’s low finances prohibit any social life. She said the club would meet in a church basement, free of charge, or would get passes to movies or discount meals at local restaurants.
“What isolates them more than their disability is their finances,” she said, “and (the club) gave them somewhere to go and feel free to talk about their problems with others.”
For the developmentally handicapped in the future, Mete said she sees more openings in their options. One opportunity, she said is that colleges, like Centennial, are starting to cater programs to the needs of the handicapped.”I think the college is ready, but it’s a matter of getting someone to apply,” she said, explaining that some of her clients lack the self-discipline needed to complete the schooling.
For now though, Mete said she will continue to help her clients achieve independence, but that she does get worn out as the number of people with needs increases.
“I get burned out, but I get better,” she said. “I know things are going to get better and I want to be there.”