Dennis Town Meeting To Vote on Preservation Funds For FORWARD Housing for Adults with Autism


Kathy Ohman of FORWARD

DENNIS – The project in the town of Dennis to construct affordable housing for adults with autism will come before voters at a Special Town Meeting this month.

The housing is being developed by the group FORWARD, an acronym that stands for Friends or Relatives With Autism Or Related Disabilities, partnering with Housing Assistance Corporation.

The mission of FORWARD is to build a small scale model housing community for adults with autism and related developmental disabilities.

Kathy and John Ohman, who started FORWARD, know first-hand the issues that families have in caring for adults with autism. Two of their three sons are on the autism spectrum. One lives in a supervised group home in Hyannis and goes to a day program. The other is high functioning and is currently working toward a bachelor’s degree at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

“Our goal is to develop a community of peers, a place where people can prosper in a supportive environment. These are people who need traditional group home services. They need to live in a house that is supervised by trained professionals,” Ohman said.

Phase one of the proposal is for a duplex, two homes with four bedrooms each to house a total of eight people, Ohman said. Each studio unit will have its own bathroom, as well as microwave and refrigerator. There will be handicapped accessibility, because the plan is for the tenants to age in place. There will be common living areas, a common kitchen and dining area.

For phase two, the plan is to build a community room that would allow larger events like Friday night dances, cooking classes, family meals and holiday parties, Ohman said.

In October 2014, Dennis Town Meeting voters gave strong support in a vote of 213 in favor to 6 opposed to allow selectmen to go out for proposals for a 4.9-acre parcel of land on Hokum Rock Road to be used for the housing. The 4.9 acres is part of a larger 15-acre parcel of town-owned land that is between Old Bass River and Route 134. It is a couple miles from exit 9 on Route 6 and is abutted by two sand pits.

“The town of Dennis has been incredibly generous to us and committed to building affordable housing for this population. They see a real need for this. Our town leaders, our town manager, town planner and our town engineer helped us locate this parcel and work with the town to make this happen as far as we’ve come with this,” Ohman said.

Ohman said FORWARD will be working with the town on the design of the project, as well as putting walking trails on the land.

Calling the project FORWARD at the Rock, FORWARD and Housing Assistance Corporation applied for a long-term lease on the land, and in late August, selectmen granted the request.

At the October 27 Town Meeting, FORWARD will go back before voters to ask whether Community Preservation funds can be used on the project.

Members of the Community Preservation Committee, the Dennis Finance Committee and the board of selectmen have all unanimously supported using the community preservation funds for the FORWARD project, Ohman said.

FORWARD is holding its second fundraising trivia night on Friday, October 30, from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Seaview in Dennisport with DJ Patrick Treacy. Teams of four can sign up for $200 or individuals can sign up to be assigned to a team. There are cash prizes, food and a silent auction.

To hear more about FORWARD’s housing project for people with autism, listen to Kathy Ohman of FORWARD discuss the project below.

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