Success of unique South Portland congregate home may lead to expansion

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SOUTH PORTLAND — An expansion of a private congregate living facility for disabled adults is being proposed in Knightville.

Mary Chris Semrow, one of the parents who initiated the project, is part of a group proposing to expand the care offered at 20 E St. to the house next door, at 14 E St.

More than five years after the 20 E St. home opened, it remains the only privately funded home for intellectually disabled adults in the state.

The arrangement provides residents with a level of supervision and autonomy that allows them to lead comparatively independent lives, Semrow said. The clients are able to live with their peers, be employed, use public transportation and enjoy the community, while also relying on support if they need it.

The house is owned by the residents’ families, and was structured as a way to provide independent care for adults with disabilities who, for one reason or another, couldn’t get funding from the state.

The new facility would mirror the existing one in many ways, and include an addition of about 4,300 square feet at the back of the house for more living space.

Semrow, who lives in Falmouth, works for Massachusetts-based Specialized Housing. Her 28-year-old daughter, Anna, has autism, and was one of the first residents of 20 E St. Semrow said the model of care is intended to fill a void in services offered through the state.

Her daughter, for example, has been on the waiting list for home support from the state since 2007. Semrow said she knew, even when her daughter was in high school, that options for supported independent living would be hard to find.

“What I wanted for her was what she wanted – to live in her apartment with friends, go to the movies, have a job, maybe have a pet,” Semrow said Tuesday.

Semrow and a small group of other parents got together and purchased the E. Street house, and offered individual rooms to other families who also had limited options.

Families buy a room in the house as if it were a piece of property. Payments cover not only living expenses, but include the services of at least one full-time staff person, who also lives at the house.

Families pay between $125,000 and $165,000 for a room. Nearly half of the nine residents are from out of state.

Buying rather than renting, although cost-prohibitive for some, provides a sense of emotional security for those at the facility and their families, Semrow said.

“When it’s home ownership, it changes everything,” she said. “You look around the table at these other families and you say, ‘We’re all in this together.'”

“That stability of where you live is really important for the family and it’s really important for the resident.”

Three families so far have invested in the new 10-bedroom house, and Semrow is soliciting other residents.

A private meeting will be held June 15 to update other E Street residents about the project, Semrow said.

The neighborhood has been ideal for a facility like this, she said.

“We love the area and the city has been great,” Semrow said. “I think we fit pretty seamlessly into the community.”

E Street resident Dan Hogan said Thursday morning that he has enjoyed having the residents of the facility as neighbors and getting to know them.

“They’re good neighbors. The more people who you know by name, the more comfortable everybody feels,” he said. “I can’t speak for all my neighbors, but I think the general feeling is we have no problem with the addition.”

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or aacquisto@theforecaster.net. Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA.

The home at 14 E St., left, in South Portland, is proposed for an expansion of the private services offered next door at 20 E St. for learning-disabled adults. (Melanie Sochan / For The Forecaster)

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South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.
  • Mary Chris Semrow

    Thank you, Alex, for a great article and the link to http://www.14Estreet.com.
    More Information at: http://www.specializedhousing.org.
    Mary Chris Semrow

  • beachmom2

    The initiative and creative ideas by these families is a great example. Government programs would never be this successful. This is an inspiring story.