They were unlikely trappings for a dream come true--a modest lamp, wastepaper basket and set of dishes.
But for Mary Lou Holm, the housewarming gifts represented victory in the battle to win independence for her son Gordon, 44, whose cerebral palsy was once so bad that doctors advised her "just to put him away."
"He's got his own apartment for the first time in his life," said Holm, who speaks for her son because a lack of motor coordination still impairs his speech. "This is an answer to many prayers."
Gordon Holm is among 52 disabled people to benefit from the construction of Carbon Creek Shores. It is the first government-subsidized housing for disabled and their families in the state, say officials at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Affairs, which funded the bulk of the project. And it is the first government-subsidized housing for the handicapped in Orange County, say local housing officials. (Statewide, there are four other housing projects for the low-income handicapped, but their able-bodied relatives must live elsewhere.)
The 40-unit complex, on Carbon Creek in Anaheim, opened formally with a ribbon cutting in November. In October, residents had already begun moving into the $2.7-million project built by Access Anaheim. A nonprofit organization, Access Anaheim was founded by the project's sponsors, the Dale McIntosh Center for the Disabled in Anaheim and Retirement Housing Foundation in Long Beach.
"We started advertising in May and we had 150 applicants by July," said Paula Margeson, program director at the McIntosh Center. "We interviewed probably 100 and took the top eligible 60 and visited them at home."
Some Were Homeless
Some of the applicants were homeless; others had been living in their cars. Many had been living in an emergency shelter run by the McIntosh Center. Most were severely disabled. Still, need was not enough to qualify, Margeson said.
"We were looking for people who would say that this is just a steppingstone to their personal development," she said.
With the complex already full, 20 people have been placed on a waiting list, Margeson said. The complex, in the 3000 block of Frontera Street, contains 26 one-bedroom, 10 two-bedroom and four three-bedroom apartments.
Among its features are adjustable kitchen countertops, wider doorways for wheelchair accessibility, markings on ovens and thermostats, doorbells and smoke alarms with blinking lights for the deaf and special grooves on the sidewalks to guide the blind.
Gordon Holm, who has spent the past decade in and out of more living arrangements than his mother can count, effortlessly rolls his wheelchair across seamless linoleum floors and stops before a kitchen countertop lowered so that he can easily reach the sink and a microwave oven.
His mother, who lives in an Irvine trailer park, admits that she finds the transformation remarkable.
"I used to have to hold him in my arms to feed him," she said. "Now he's not only living by himself but cooking his dinner and doing his own dishes."
So happy, in fact, were the Holmses with the apartment that they and "20 or 30" gift-bearing friends recently celebrated with a housewarming party.
Others have benefited, too.
Cuts Apron Strings
Cynthia Burke, 26, said moving to the complex offered an opportunity to cut apron strings. Stricken with muscular dystrophy during her senior year in high school, she had been living with her parents in Tustin since receiving a bachelor's degree in social work from Chapman College in 1982.
She is fully mobile but tires easily and is weak from the waist up. She hopes that living in a building where grab-bars line the walls and where doors and windows practically glide open will help her focus her energy on developing a career as a medical social worker for the handicapped.
"I can become totally self-sufficient so that I can then help others to achieve the same goal," she said.
A 32-year-old mother of two who was rendered legally blind in recent brain surgery said a two-bedroom apartment at Carbon Creek has offered financial independence from an estranged husband.
A former accountant who asked not to be identified, she said that all of her $780 monthly disability payments was being absorbed by the $800 in rent she had been paying for a modest two-bedroom Whittier apartment.
Now her rent is an affordable $200 a month, and she is able to provide for her two sons, ages 1 and 3. In addition, an abundance of natural and artificial light allows her to make the most of her remaining vision.
"I feel like I'm starting fresh," she said.
Helen and Gerald Poncy, a disabled couple in their 60s, said Carbon Creek made it possible for them to continue living together after they failed to find other affordable housing.