2009-09-18 / Editorial/Opinion

Ruling Could Put Mentally Ill On Rockaway Streets

Anybody who lives in Rockaway knows the impact of the adult homes that dot the peninsula. Mentally ill residents wander the streets, sometimes panhandling, talking to themselves or aggressively approaching other peninsula residents. One only has to walk on Beach 116 Street, the west end's major shopping area, or drive by Rockaway Beach Boulevard and Beach 95 Street to understand the problem. Now, it seems, thanks to a ruling by a federal judge, things may soon get worse. The recent ruling by Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis said that New York State has been illegally discriminating against the mentally ill residents of the adult homes who were now "no longer capable of leading largely independent lives by warehousing them in adult homes." Garaufis has given the state until late October to come up with a plan that would close the homes, at least nine of which are in Rockaway, and move their residents to individual apartments. Locals point out that Rockaway has lots of excess apartments and that the state would likely move the mentally ill patients from the closed adult homes to those apartments. New York has been struggling for 40 years to come up with a workable strategy for dealing with the mentally ill. The psychiatric hospitals were closed and the residents were moved to group and adult homes in the hope that those would be more humane and would allow the residents some modicum of self-esteem. It has not worked. We have no doubts that those adult homes are uncomfortable and undesirable places to live, but putting those same people in apartments or allowing them to drop out and wander the streets is not the answer. It is easy for a federal judge to say that the system is broken and you have a month to come up with a plan to fix it. It is much harder to actually do the fixing. The judge should allow more time for the state and city to develop a plan that would benefit both the residents of the adult homes and the people who have to live in close proximity to them.

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