TUCKAHOE, N.Y. -- A much-needed home for adults who are on the autism spectrum is in the works in Westchester County.
State numbers show the number of people diagnosed is increasing every year.
Government services usually end by the age of 21, and this is one model that could help ease the transition to adulthood.
Kristin Thatcher was smiling from ear-to-ear as she talked about her Staten Island apartment, part of a former convent building that was converted a few years ago for adults on the autism spectrum.
She says she told Cardinal Dolan she doesn't belong in a group home and that she needed her own independent living space when she comes home from work.
"I get to hang out with all my guy friends, and we have activities that happen every single day," she said. "I'm just independent. I choose what I want to eat. I choose what I want to shop for."
It's a life parents Eleanor and Armand Evangelista dream of for their son Paul, who lives at their Tuckahoe home. He works at a grocery store and is studying to become a pharmacy tech.
"He lived on a college campus for two years, and then when that program ended, what's next?" Eleanor Evangelista said.
"Paul wants to be on his own, have a sense of community," Armanda Evangelista said.
"Right now in New York state, there is a tsunami of adults with autism who need housing. They are on waiting lists, isolated and afraid as their parents age and their future is uncertain," said Donna Maxon with ArchCare.
ArchCare, the health care system of the Archdiocese of New York, this week announced it's transforming another convent -- the one at Immaculate Conception Church in Tuckahoe. There will be nine living units, each equipped with a kitchen and bathroom. Applications must be mailed by March 31.
In reviewing the applications, ArchCare says it will work with a third party to determine who will live in these apartments.
"To process the applications, we have the help of Jeff Deberry, who is a certified behavior analyst and who has developed the independent living skills assessment tool," Maxon said.
He is part of a larger team of parents and autism advocates who will review applications.
ArchCare says approved applications then go into a housing lottery in April and tenants will be notified in the fall.
"I'm very grateful. I get to live on my own two feet. I have the support I need ... help whenever I need help, but I'm learning myself more," Thatcher said.
The building is expected to open in 2024.
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