UN-Habitat Invites Autism Housing Network Director to Speak at World Human Rights Cities Forum

The Autism Housing Network (AHN) Director, Desiree Kameka Galloway, was invited by UN-Habitat as a speaker at the World Human Rights Cities Forum (WHRCF) during the week of World Habitat Day to discuss housing issues for individuals with autism and intellectual/developmental disabilities (I/DD) during the COVID-19 era.

The AHN, a project of Madison House Autism Foundation (MHAF), shares resources and housing options for adults with autism and  I/DD nationwide. AHN and Kameka Galloway’s efforts expand globally beyond the United States.

Autism After 21 Graphic
Source: Madison House Autism Foundation

AHN’s far-reaching global influence works to empower local opportunities for adults with I/DD within their communities. For example, a notable and powerful movement is occurring in India, where Kameka Galloway spoke at the Great Minds Coming Together on Autism International Conference to share lessons learned about residential options for the neurodiverse population. Kameka’s knowledge and advocacy about the importance of neuro-inclusive housing and residential supports have contributed to MHAF’s efforts to support people with I/DD. Her invitation to speak at UN-Habitat Day has only affirmed the strides she has made to support the community across the globe!

The Right to Housing for People with Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities

The United Nations’s (UN) vision for UN-Habitat is an initiative to highlight the importance of the right to housing in safe and inclusive communities. This initiative is intended to reduce inequality, discrimination, and poverty. One of the ways this is done is through collaboration and partnerships with non-governmental (NGO) organizations like AHN.

7 million+ people in the US with I/DD
Sources: Autism Housing Network; Residential Information Systems Project

There are over 7 million people in the US with I/DD, with only 7% that have access to supports to live outside their family home. The difficulties associated with access to housing are increasing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “For people with disabilities to be included in society and find accessible homes, the physical, environmental, technological, and social barriers must be identified and dismantled. COVID-19 has widened the gaps of those often left behind, shedding light on those whom systemic injustices have hidden and kept quiet in its shadows,” Desiree Kameka Galloway addressed as a speaker at WHRCF.

Kameka Galloway delineated that while the current demand for affordable, accessible housing and residential supports is increasing for the millions that need it, the average annual growth is only about 23,500 per year as seen in the graphic below.

Graphic on individuals with I/DD receiving residential supports
Source: Autism Housing Network

COVID-19 and the Right to Housing for Persons with I/DD

COVID-19 has widened the gaps of those left behind. Individuals with I/DD are disproportionately at risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19. This has had devastating impacts on many people with I/DD:

  1. Those living in congregate care are at highest risk of contracting COVID-19 due to sharing of many support staff under one roof.
  2. Displacement of persons with I/DD if parent passes from COVID-19.
  3. Loss of jobs or income causing financial hardship and putting stability of housing at risk.
  4. Restriction on visitors and access to community due to COVID isolation is especially for those who do not comprehend the gravity of COVID-19.
  5. Limited access to personal protection equipment (PPE) due to its scarcity, causing increased risk of spreading by support staff.
  6. Staff shortages due to pre-existing health conditions or the need to stay home with their own family during stay-at-home orders.
  7. Closure of community-based programming which may not be able to re-open due to financial hardship.
  8. The lasting effects of isolation impacts mental stability and physical health.

Making the Right to Housing a Reality

Every person on the spectrum is different, and each person has different strengths and needs. To help those who are disproportionately affected by COVID, certain steps need to be taken to support them however we can.

Therefore, the following aspects must be addressed as part of one’s right to housing:

  1. People should be able to interact with their home without physical or cognitive barriers.
  2. Housing assistance should be provided for those who cannot afford it so that they are not forced into provider-controlled settings or homelessness.
  3. The ability to access and choose their preferred service delivery and provider of long-term support services (LTSS).
  4. Development of new career opportunities and incentives for retention of skilled direct support staff.
  5. Continued advocacy for more inclusive spaces and places in the community.
  6. Ensuring people with disabilities are free from abuse or neglect.

Kameka Galloway advocates for the identification and removal of these barriers formed from systemic injustices. The right to housing humanizes and creates accessibility and inclusive communities for individuals with I/DD.

We greatly appreciate Kameka Galloway’s efforts with the Autism Housing Network and advocating for safe housing for people with autism and I/DD! Through her work, there has grown a collective effort moving forward through the establishment of more housing opportunities for adults with autism and I/DD.

To view the full paper written by Desiree Kameka Galloway for UN-Habitat and the right to housing, click here.


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