Let the neighbour be like me

To replace the current big special care homes, dozens and dozens of smaller ones are being built to house up to 30 people with mental and psychic handicaps. A task not always easy.

«But what if they will be glancing at my children?!» asked some young mothers in the Soup City (Supilinn) part of Tartu when plans were being introduced. Added a real estate developer: «Don’t you see how our prices will nosedive once you come with your people!?»

As admitted by AS Hoolekandeteenused director of services Liina Lanno, the last argument caused her knees to shake. The plans were finally scuppered by resistance of near neighbours of the lot in view.  

Same story in Jõgeva, the town stating they had no retarded people of their own (and never would).  The town had harboured plans to build two houses for ten each.

The resistance was likewise tough in Tapa, several years ago. While not against the erecting of a village of six houses on a vacant area, they fainted at the thought of an institution of the type in the middle of other housing.  

Eventually the house came into being and has remained problems free for years, with some former resisters showing up to apologise for attitude back in the protest days.

All over Estonia

17 special care homes housing above 30 are travelling the nation seeking for places to build. The reason? EU is sending €56m to facilitate the end of large inhumane institutions the bulk of which dates to Soviet era.  

The large cities like Pärnu and Tallinn are said to show understanding. Smaller places like Kolga-Jaani in Viljandi County have been interested... out of need for extra jobs.

The tiniest spots are out of the question as social ministry plan prescribes locals must number 300, in the least – for the 30 to be cared for among them.

The last time EU euros came around, the requirement was not there so places like Sinimäe, Ida-Viru County got a house for 60 with population just slightly above 300. This will now be history while Sinimäe will stay as it is.

Biggies binned

An example of a special care home to close doors is at Koluvere, Lääne County housing 170. The hosting Kullamaa is sorry to see them go, losing lots of related jobs. The issue of principle being – who are these homes for, the staff or the needy?  

During the reorganisation, some 1,200 mentally retarded will have to move from where they are used to live. Possibly, to the other end of Estonia.

Specialists say the move needs to be prepared peacefully enough, featuring trips to go see the future home – citing that with the 550 already relocated there have been no serious backlashes except for the rare few. Also, the caregivers are learning from experience.

Keeping the large homes with 40–50 people on one floor is out of the question, with most of the dwellers simply walking the corridors as other options like handiwork rooms and gyms are limited.  

The new smaller places will be using local public sports and production options. As an example of that, in Viljandi the handicapped go to do ceramics, and frequent gyms and swimming pool like all other.

Closer to kinfolks

If at all possible, the people will be distributed to be near homeplace. Meanwhile, lots of them have been under special care since childhood with no ties to the native town whatsoever. Till 2001, all special care home residents were entered into local population register. Now, they remain under guardianship of former parish or town. Regrettably, fewer than 20 percent retain any ties with loved ones.  

Currently, welfare workers are busy trying to detect whatever family links there are, with view to perhaps restore some. In that case, new home would be nearby.

Consequently, Southern Estonia with the largest special needs population of 1,500 will only keep some 500. Western Estonia will retain 200 out of 900. Meanwhile Harju County and Tallinn will go from 230 to close to 800.

And so the search is on all over the land for vacant houses and empty buildings. In Elva, Tartu County, a good kind of competition seems to be developing with at least two organisations offering to build.