In Nantes, young disabled people finally feel ‘like everyone else’ in shared housing

(AFP) – 29-year-old Axel Crochet dreamed of leaving her parents. The young woman, who suffers from Down syndrome, “finally” gained her independence by moving into a communal apartment in a luxury home in north Nantes.

On the walls of her room, posters of horses frolicking, and a man in the wind were already hung. Sitting on a bed with flowery sheets, her feet resting on a star-pollinated rug, she recounts with a smile this movement that “changed (her life)”.

“I’m so happy here, I’ve found independence. I go for walks, picnics, and cook. I learned to do the laundry on my own,” says the young woman, with brown hair on the shoulders and a blue tank top, proudly. Electrician.

A few years ago, she experienced “staying with a family” but “not for long”: “It didn’t go well,” she whispered, lowering her head. So she returned to her parents, as there was no other suitable solution for independent residence.

In her new home on a quiet street north of Nantes, she lives with four young men with mental and cognitive disabilities and five young workers.

Fratres, owned by a not-for-profit endowment trust, has subletted since mid-April a large building of 350 square meters with garden, pool and barbecue.

“Our project aims to provide tailored support to young people with disabilities, but in a normal environment,” explains Emmanuel de Carrion, co-founder of Fratries and former general secretary of Café Joyeux, organizations that train and employ waiters and chefs with disabilities.

– ‘Ben Young’ –
During the day, caregivers come to the house to help disabled youths get dressed, run errands or cook, depending on their needs. The building manager lives with his wife and two children in an apartment next door.

On the ground floor of the house, the roommates share a large kitchen, a living room with large windows, and a TV room. On the upper floor, each occupies a bedroom with a bathroom.

To decorate her picture, Emma de Montclaus, a 23-year-old with Down syndrome, hung dozens of photos and memories of her childhood in Marseille and recent holidays in Kenya, above her bed.

Neighbor Valentin Leben also wants to show off his room, where two large windows bathe in the light. “Sometimes you can tan,” says the 25-year-old who has autism.

Both also dream of leaving their parents to live “among the young” and above all “like everyone else”.

“There is a gap in the racket. Housing is expensive and does not always correspond to the aspirations of young people who are tired of marginalization”, Emmanuel de Carrion emphasizes.

To live in Fratres’ house, young people with disabilities pay an average of “700-800 euros” a month, depending on their resources, and identifies the co-founder of a project he wants to be “accessible to all”.

– ‘A breath of fresh air’ –
Around a garden table where skillfully prepared zucchini gratin, Pauline Berard, a young woman with Down syndrome who smiles as energetic, sits roommates for dinner.

Under the last rays of the evening sun, one recounts her long working day while another fills his plate again.

“The important thing is we’re all adults, on the same level. Nobody is responsible for another,” says Aurelie Marie, 28, a home care coordinator for seniors, perched on the edge of the pool.

The rent for young workers is “in line with market rates”, that is, 700 euros per month with fees. Emmanuel de Carrion continues: “It’s normal, living with young people with disabilities is an option, and it doesn’t justify the rent discount.”

Victoria Gunnarsson, a 28-year-old teacher, settled in the siblings’ school because she was sure she would find her roommates a “long-term breath of fresh air”.

A “permanent” housing solution, the home does not impose a limit on the lease term for its tenants.

Unique in France at the moment, the project is set to be repeated: the second Fratries house in Rennes is supposed to open in the spring of 2023.

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