SEATTLE - Right now, it exists as a garage attached to a group home for people with developmental disabilities in the Ballard neighborhood. Soon, it will be converted into a new house for Joel Abel, also known as Joel Romeo or "Mayor of Ballard", ending the saga that highlights a major challenge in the disability community.
"I've seen Joel this last week and he seems so much more calm just knowing there's a plan in place," said Tom Haupt with The Arc of King County.
Abel, 67, has autism, cannot hear and is partially mute. In Ballard, he is known for his unique mannerism and is frequently seen in music stores, bars, and concert venues.
Over the summer, Abel's landlord decided not to renew his lease. His home was too unsafe, according to the landlord, because of Abel's hoarding of a myriad of things over nearly two decades.
News of the impending move inspired a community response within Ballard to help find Abel a new home.
In September, he moved out with help from his caregivers with The Arc of King County. After bouncing between three Aurora Avenue motels, each ending unsuccessfully, Abel is now in a Shoreline group home.
"Here's a person who's in need," said Amal Grabinski with Provail, a non-profit that provides services to people with disabilities, "There's a simple way we can meet that need. Let's figure out a way to make it easy for this person to be successful."
A unique union between The Arc, Parkview Services and Provail has led to the creation of a new, permanent home for Abel in Ballard. It will be in a converted garage attached to an existing group home. All of the appliances for the new home are being donated. Parkview Services is paying for a majority of the construction, and is seeking funding to complete the project.
"I think stories like these make it very human," commented Haupt, "For somebody that has limited income and has a disability, it compounds the difficulty in finding successful placements."
As remarkable as Joel's story is now, advocates realize without the Ballard community response and earlier news reports, things may have turned out far differently. They hope the attention serves as a notice to the issue lawmakers must deal with.
"There are thousands of people in the King and Snohomish County area that have disabilities that need housing and don't have it right now," added Grabinski.
Copyright 2016 KING