After long wait, Access Living advocate one step closer to community services

Access Living Advocate Curtis Harris finally got the news he had been waiting for. Like tens of thousands of other people with disabilities in Illinois, Curtis was on the PUNS Waiting List. PUNS (Prioritization for Urgency of Need for Services) is a statewide waiting list of people with developmental disabilities that have applied for and are waiting for community-based services. Curtis had been waiting on the list for seven years. In November, Curtis learned he will move off the waiting list and into the pre-admission screening process. Through that process, Curtis will learn if he is eligible for disability services in the community.

Curtis has been active with Access Living and with the disability community for many years, participating in leadership and community organizing groups with Access Living, and serving in leadership positions with Chicago ADAPT and with Disabled Americans Want Work Now.

For much of his time as an advocate, he has been waiting for his chance to access community services. The news, when it came in November, thrilled Curtis. “At last,” Curtis said. Currently, Curtis lives with his father. “I have an aging parent who has been taking care of me for so many years.” Through the screening process, Curtis will be able to access services that will allow him to move out of his father’s home. The next step is to determine the type of services appropriate for Curtis. On November 30, Curtis and his father met with a team of people from various disability service agencies. The meeting was an opportunity to hear more about what Curtis wants out of community services as well as a chance to investigate what he may need from community services. “It was an excellent meeting,” Curtis said. The next step is to determine whether Curtis is eligible for Community Integrated Living Arrangement (also known as Group Homes) placement, or Home Based Services under the Illinois 1915C Waiver. Though the process may take a while, Curtis feels excited. “This is one step toward independence. It gives me a chance to be independent while my father is aging.”

Curtis’ movement off the PUNS Waiting List comes at a time that community services in Illinois are under scrutiny. A recent Chicago Tribune investigation of Illinois Group Homes has uncovered years of abuse and neglect at Group Homes that has led to scores of deaths. In the wake of the investigation, Illinois has already pulled the operating license of one Group Home Provider, Disability Services of Illinois. Like so many others, Curtis read the stories and believes the news they carried was terrible. “People should be held accountable,” Curtis said. “People should be fired.” But according to Curtis, community services are the best option. “The solution is not to move people into ICFs (Intermediate Care Facilities) or SODC (State Operated Developmental Centers). The State should stop funding institutions and put support into the community.”

Access Living is grateful for all of Curtis’ work for people with disabilities and wishes Curtis all the best as he explores options in the community.