Special needs family gets dream home

Rooms that are too small, halls that are too narrow and endless flights of stairs are an everyday struggle for Mathi and her special-needs children.

Having two kids who are confined to wheelchairs only adds to the stresses of her everyday life.

In just over a week, however, the Shanmugalingam family will be one step closer to moving out of their cramped high-rise apartment, and into the home they’ve always dreamed of .

Habitat for Humanity, in partnership with the Toronto Emergency, Fire and Police Services, have been raising funds all summer to build two wheelchair accessible homes in the Victoria Park and Danforth area.

The eight day 911 Build Blitz began Sept. 17 and is the first step toward construction on the homes where over 1,200 volunteers are expected to attend.

With both her daughters being special needs children, Mathi Shanmugalingam and her husband were in dire need for a change.

“My children are totally developmentally delayed, and in wheelchairs. We need to give them all the care [they need],” Shanmugalingam said.

“We are [currently] living in a very high-rise apartment on the 17th floor. We always have a problem with the wheelchairs and elevators. Especially with the two of them – it’s very hard to get them in at the same time. Usually we have to go in one-by-one.”

Habitat for Humanity is not giving the Shanmugalingam family a hand out. The full cost of the home will be paid back by the Shanmugalingam family on terms they can afford over the next 25 to 30 years. These terms include no interest and no down payment on the home.

Habitat for Humanity representative Angela Solomos explains this is one of many ways the organization is trying to break the cycle of poverty in the city.

“Families come to Habitat for Humanity because they’re looking for an opportunity to get out of poverty housing,” Solomos said. “In coming to habitat, we’re not giving them a home – we’re giving them the hand up that they need to get out of substandard housing and into a home of their own.

“This is how we’re breaking the cycle of poverty: we’re pulling a family out of a substandard condition, giving them access to a home that they can afford and that they can pay back on terms that they can afford.”

The Celebrity Servers night at the Warden/Eglington Boston Pizza was one of many fundraising events which helped support the cause. Patrons were able to donate part of their bill directly to the Shanmugalingams, in addition to a silent auction.

Front line and management workers from the Toronto EMS, Police and Fire Services, dressed in their uniforms and volunteered their time to become servers for the evening, helping to raise awareness of the build.

Toronto EMS Commander Dave Ralph was happy to come out and support the cause.

“We’ve done four celebrity server events [over the course of the summer],” Ralph said.

“We’ve had our senior management team out, some of our front line paramedics and they see the value in helping the community. We’re in the community of Scarborough 24/7, 365 days a year.

“This is a great opportunity for them to come and meet people [in the community] not at the worst point in their life. [Emphasis added.]”

Ralph is a strong believer in the cause, empathizing a great deal with the Shanmugalingam family and their less-than-ideal situation.

“This family has two children that are confined to wheel chairs and they live in an apartment,” Ralph said.

“Can you imagine having to get two children – mom and dad – from a high-rise apartment outside? It’s a production just to have to wait for an elevator. This family is going to be able to wheel their children out onto their front lawn, and that’s going to be fantastic.”

For more information on how you can donate or volunteer at the build, visit www.torontohabitat.ca/911build/.