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14 months, 1,000 strangers & £30,000 to #HelpCalMoveOut

Wheelchair user & Edinburgh native Cal Grevers

What does it take for a bright young man in his 20s to live independently, in his own home in Edinburgh? Wheelchair user Cal Grevers tells us why it wasn’t an option to wait until he was 30 to leave his parent’s home and join over 6,000 disabled people waiting for an accessible home in the city. 
 

“I remember feeling my phone, which was mounted on my electric wheelchair’s armrest, vibrating through my seat. I checked my emails using the voice command “open mail” and found, to my disbelief, that my fundraising campaign had surpassed its £30,000 goal.

It’s the culmination of 14 months of hard work and the generosity of a thousand strangers.

It doesn’t sink in at first, but after announcing the news on social media in late January, I’m flooded with messages of congratulations from my supporters, and it’s clear that I’m about to embark upon a life-changing journey of self-discovery and personal growth.

Independent living

As a disabled person and wheelchair user, moving out of my parent’s home and living independently was, for a long time, a rite of passage I could only dream of. It had left me feeling like an eternal teenager, infantilised by systemic barriers to public and private housing.

Independent living is one of the rights enshrined in the UN’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, yet a 2018 inquiry by the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that only 0.7% of local authority housing and 1.5% of housing association properties in Scotland are wheelchair accessible.

I applied for social housing with Edinburgh Council in January 2020 and was informed a needs assessment would have to be carried out to be given priority for an accessible flat.

Two years later, this assessment has still not taken place. Even if it had, I would have joined Edinburgh’s more than 6,000 disabled people waiting an average of 1,000 days to be housed, as figures obtained by Jeremy Balfour, Lothian Member of the Scottish Parliament, show.

Shut out

I also felt shut out of the private rental sector, fearing landlords wouldn’t approve the extensive adaptations required or accept a tenant on disability benefits.

On the advice of Housing Options Scotland, a charity that helps disabled people, older adults and members of the Armed Forces with their housing needs, I decided to pursue shared ownership through a Scottish Government scheme. However, with Edinburgh’s private sector housing inaccessible and unaffordable, I didn’t have enough savings for the deposit and adaptations required to meet my needs.

Moving to a cheaper area, far from my family and support network, wasn’t a realistic option either.

I was close to giving up when my parents suggested I crowdfund the additional costs of an accessible home in Edinburgh. I laughed off their idea refusing to play into the disempowering narrative of disabled people as dependent on charity, which shifts attention away from removing systemic barriers to independent living.

But, after dwelling on it for a few weeks, amid a pandemic that had brought into sharp relief the brevity of life, I realised I couldn’t wait until I’m 30 years old to transition into adulthood and shouldn’t feel guilty asking for help when the state support isn’t there.

The campaign

A crowdfunding campaign would also raise awareness of a neglected issue, while living independently in an accessible home would give me the stability and confidence to push for systemic change.

I launched my crowdfunding campaign in December 2020 and created social media accounts to promote it, thinking up the memorable hashtag #HelpCalMoveOut. I tagged local celebrities, disabled activists, and influencers in the social justice space, asking them to share it with their network.

With a few retweets from well-known Scottish comedians came interest from Edinburgh’s local newspapers and, by February 2021, I had raised £1,000 of my £30,000 funding goal.

I broadened the scope to reach a wider audience and attract more donations, making it not just a fundraising vehicle, but a platform for educating on disability and accessibility, while offering a window into my personal life.

I also promised to start a vlog that followed my independent living journey and documents the process of creating an accessible home, as a way of thanking my supporters. My first breakthrough came in the spring of 2021, with a news segment on national TV covering the accessible housing shortage and my fundraising efforts.

The momentum continued to build over the second half of 2021 and, thanks to the influencers, activists, journalists, writers, actors, comedians, disability community, and generous strangers who got behind my campaign, I reached my goal less than a fortnight into 2022.

Dreaming bigger

I plan to begin the process of finding a home and adapting it to my needs in April, and hope to be living in a ground floor, two-bed flat with level access, open-plan layout, wetroom and assistive technology by summer.

It will not only be somewhere to live, but a workplace and a space to recharge when things get hard with the privacy to explore romantic relationships, dignity, autonomy and independence - it will be the social model of disability in action.

With my goal of living independently off the starting blocks, an even bigger dream peeps over the horizon. I aim to one day mobilise a team of designers, architects and accessibility consultants -  who are disabled or allies of the disability community - and set up a social enterprise that builds accessible, affordable, sustainable, modular housing for disabled people.

Who’s interested?”

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Email Cal Grevers at calgrevers@gmail.com

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Every September, Habinteg runs a week of action #ForAccessibleHomes, to celebrate what an accessible home can do for a person’s wellbeing, independence and overall quality of life. To learn more, visit https://www.habinteg.org.uk/fah.

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