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The project is a housing development for young mentally retarded persons in a small municipality in Norway.
The qualities of the project lie partly in the physical planning/product, partly in the adjustments made in the use of the physical environment and the allocation of services to the mentally retarded - the goal being the further improvement of their living conditions. In addition, the project exemplifies the aims and a concrete result of the major social reform concerning the mentally retarded which has recently been carried out in the country and which has improved the lives of thousands of handicapped persons.
This is illustrated through the description of Kristina, a young, severely handicapped woman, who is one of the mentally retarded persons living in the housing development in question.
From Institution to a Home
In 1990, an important social reform was introduced in Norway. The goal was to improve and normalize living conditions for the mentally retarded.
By law, municipalities now should take the main responsibility for the mentally retarded in terms of schools, employment, services and homes. This meant dismantling the existing county-based system of care/ the closing down of the regional institutions specially designated for this group of handicapped persons - and provision of new homes for the mentally retarded in their home municipalities.
Kristina, whose life story is briefly described below, is a former institution-inhabitant directly affected by this reform. Having lived in a regional institution for 10 years, she moved to her own home in Nˇtterˇy municipality, her place of birth, in 1990.
Kristina is a young woman of 24 who is severely mentally retarded and also physically
handicapped. She is in need of extensive practical and personal care and assistance.
Kristina and her life in the Institution
Solbˇ Central Institution, to which Kristina came in 1980 as a 9 year old, was a medium sized institution in Norwegian terms - housing about 120-140 mentally retarded persons of all ages. Solbˇ was located, like many similar institutions, in rural and sheltered surroundings somewhat isolated from community centers and ordinary housing areas. For Kristina and the other residents, this in many ways meant a secluded and segregated life apart from the rest of the society. It also implied a life lacking the normal daily rhythm which most people experience - with a variation in physical environment throughout the day. All work and training activities were within the framework of the institution. The normal separation of work/schooling and spare time with private home-life and leisure activities was very limited.
During most of her stay at Solbˇ, Kristina shared living-quarters with 5 others,
mostly young people. Kristina's private living area consisted of a small bedroom. Other
living- facilities were shared with others, giving little opportunity for privacy. All
daily meals were prepared by the staff and served in a common dining-room.
Kristina and her new home
The planning of a new home and services for Kristina involved a number of people from the administration and staff of the local authorities, the building and housing society ,the institution, the parent- organization, etc. The housing complex which contains Kristina's new home, was built through cooperation between the local cooperative building and housing society and the municipality (which is the owner). The housing was financed through the Norwegian State Housing Bank.
Just before Christmas in 1990, Kristina moved to her new home - a one bedroom flat in a
small two-storey building complex in a new residential area.
The building complex which was to be Kristina's new home environment, is a small scale, pleasant, intimate, and modest housing development which is well adapted to the site and suited to the neighborhood. Great care has been taken by the architects, in both interior and exterior planning, to achieve a close and natural integration of the flats for the handicapped, and to avoid expressing the collective aspect in the project as something apart or very special.
An ordinary day for Kristina consists of occupation/training at a day-centre and
home-life in the afternoon/evening . She normally spends most of her spare time at home.
She enjoys her own company and likes listening to music on the radio , t.v. or on her own
casette-player, or just being alone in her flat or on the terrace outside where she can
hear, feel and enjoy the outdoor environment.
The integration of Kristina and the other mentally retarded in the local neighbourhood has caused no negative responses. However, close social relationships between the handicapped and the other members of the neighbourhood have not developed as yet. Apart from exchanging greetings and occasional encounters, contact is limited. The atmosphere is, however, friendly and positive and Kristina and the other mentally retarded residents have become a natural part of the neighborhood.
Today, Kristina is well established in her home in Nˇtterˇy - a new living
environment from which she undoubtedly has profited . She has become more relaxed and
shows greater contentness, especially in the last year after been given more privacy. This
corresponds with the elimination of the common-rooms in 1994 - an action which was
specially beneficial to Kristina, who is not a very social person at heart. The closing of
these common-rooms, which until 94 were used as initially planned for common meals and
gatherings in the evenings, was motivated by two circumstances. Experience showed that the
social bonds between the various individuals did not justify their use. In addition, it
became clear that the shear existence of the common-rooms indirectly proved restricting to
privacy and individuality in services to the tenants.
The future use of the common-rooms is currently being discussed. Most probably they will be used as an additional flat. An adaptation to such a purpose is physically very simple and inexpensive, due to the fact that such a rearrangement is fully allocated for in the design ( thanks to foresightedness by the planning commitee/architects and quality in the architectural design.)
Another important change is also being planned. Up till now home-services have been provided by personnel specially assigned to Kristina and the other handicapped help-recipients in the building. In the future, the services will be fully integrated within the ordinary district-based service organization in the municipality. This implies the abolition of any special service-apparatus linked to any specific handicap or need. This again is in line with the reform-intention of normalization and an important step towards higher quality of services. Today, about 18 persons are involved in providing home-services to Kristina , which means that Kristina has to relate to many different persons. With the re-organization of services, the number of persons giving (the same) assistance/service to Kristina is expected to be reduced to 3 or 4. This will mean more personal and stable service and better opportunities for closer social contact between Kristina and her assistants.
The provision of new private homes for Kristina and the other mentally retarded persons in question has been an important step towards a normalized living environment for these handicapped individuals. It can, however, be argued that this housing-development is to some extent still a representative of a "special-need"- housing project since homes for handicapped individuals, between whom there apparently are no strong social bonds, are located together.
The results of concrete measures in this project are promising. However, further steps are possible and perhaps necessary/ wanted. It remains to be seen whether these steps will be taken in the future for the individuals in question.
Improved life of 12 000 mentally retarded.
The housing project described in this document is one concrete result of a social reform introduced in 1990 concerning the mentally retarded in Norway. Approximately 18,000 persons have been affected by the reform, 5,500 of which previously lived in institutions. The process of moving people from regional institutions back to their local communities and providing new homes and services for those living with their parents or relatives was to be carried out over a 6 year period. Today, at the end of 1995, more than 90% of the total number of people affected are resettled in new homes in their respective local communities.
The Norwegian Research Board has evaluated the implementation of the reform and its effect on the mentally retarded since the reform's inception. Eleven of 14 projects are completed and the most important results are presented in a special report.
A combination of the evaluation and reports from municipalities and county commissioners give an adequate picture of the implementation and current status concerning the reform's changes in division of responsibility.
The Norwegian Reach Board's evaluation shows that there have generally been positive developments in the mentally retarded's living conditions, proficiency and quality of life. There has been a clear improvement in living conditions in areas which have presented special difficulties for the mentally retarded, such as housing conditions and independence. Positive results are described in terms of the mentally retarded's proficiency in everyday life, especially for the most poorly functioning mentally handicapped. The quality of life is judged to be significantly better than that in institutions for the mentally retarded. However, leisure activities and social contact with others appear to be negatively affected by relocation from institutions. A study shows that 70% of those close to the mentally handicapped affected by the reform feel that the mentally retarded have been given the opportunity for an improved life, 20% feel that there has been no change, while 10% feel that they generally have a poorer life after relocation from an institution.
Reports show that the municipalities' choices in terms of housing, the organisation of services, education and leisure activities are characterised by a limited degree of integration. For example, municipalities often organise services for the mentally retarded in special departments, where the staff only deals with the mentally handicapped.
Evaluation shows that the most important problem in the service sector, both before and after implementation of the reform, is to recruit stable and competent personnel.
Notteroy Municipality (Owner )
The Norwegian State Housing Bank
The Ministries of Local Government and Labour
The Norwegian State Housing Bank
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