2009-09-25 / Top Stories

Judge's Ruling Sparks Adult Home Controversy

By Howard Schwach

The Surfside Adult Home on Beach 95 Street. The Surfside Adult Home on Beach 95 Street. A recent ruling by a federal court judge that nearly a dozen adult homes in Rockaway were violating the rights of mentally ill residents and might have to close their doors has sparked controversy and ire throughout the peninsula.

Judge Nicholas Garaufis of the Federal District Court in Brooklyn ruled that New York State discriminated against thousands of mentally ill people in New York City by placing them in the privately run adult homes, which effectively replaced state run psychiatric hospitals more than forty years ago.

The non-profit group that sued the state had asked Garaufis to stop the state from steering mentally ill clients into 28 adult homes in the city, each of which has more than 120 beds.

The local adult homes identified in the lawsuit as violating federal law are: Belle Harbor Manor, New Gloria's Manor Home for Adults, New Haven Manor, Park Inn Home for Adults, Rockaway Manor Home for Adults, Surfside Home for Adults, Central Assisted Living LLC, Long Island Hebrew Living Center, Seaview Manor and Wavecrest Home for Adults.

Local experts say that several other problematic adult homes, such as the Chai Home on Beach 126 Street, were left out of the ruling because they have fewer than 120 beds.

The ruling, which applies to "mentally ill people who are not considered dangerous to themselves or others," strongly suggested that the state will have to begin finding individual apartments or small homes for virtually all adult home residents who wanted one.

Garaufis wrote that adult homes were "segregated settings" that kept residents from integrating into the community at large. "The state has denied thousands of individuals with mental illness in New York City the opportunity to receive services in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs."

That fact violates the Americans With Disabilities Act by segregating the mentally ill from the general population and restricts the way they live, Garaufis wrote.

Congressman Anthony Weiner says he is not surprised by the ruling.

"This was bound to happen sooner or later," Weiner said. "It was only a matter of time before the feds called them on this, warehousing the mentally ill in large adult homes without real services."

Weiner told The Wave that the ruling will have a disproportionate impact on Rockaway, which already has "illegal group homes" called single room occupancy (SRO) housing.

"We have to close those illegal SROs and build legal group homes," he said. "Then we have to make sure the people who live in those homes have the necessary support services."

"I don't blame the people who live there," he added. "I blame the landlords - somebody should issue arrest warrants for them."

"The rights of those people are infringed by keeping them in those institutions we call adult homes," Weiner said.

He believes, however, that there may be solutions other than moving the mentally ill out of the adult homes and into smaller group homes.

"We could reduce the headcount in those homes, spread them out a bit, I suppose. We could change the way they are cared for. There are always other solutions for the state to pursue."

Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer agrees that care is more important than size. She says that she is "troubled and concerned" by the ruling.

"There are some real problems that will be posed should the state have to close the adult homes and move the residents to apartments," she said. "Now, at least there are programs and social workers in the homes. Who is going to deal with the very real problems that the mentally ill have if they are moved into individual homes and apartments? Where are the apartments? What impact will that move have on the community? Most of them are not harmful, but some are and that has to be addressed. Putting them in apartments throughout the community is not what we want."

A longtime mental health worker, who sees residents at several of the Rockaway adult homes as part of his in-patient care service, says that the judge's ruling was wrongheaded.

While he asked not to be identified because he does not have permission to speak with the press, he said that moving mentally ill clients out of the adult homes and into a smaller setting would probably insure that those clients get fewer services, not more.

He told The Wave that there are three distinct groups of clients in the adult homes. A third of those, he says, can live a normal independent life and could successfully live in group homes. A second third, he says, can live independently only with lots of support. The final third, he said, did not have the skills to live outside the adult home setting.

He added that more than 90 percent of those in Rockaway's adult homes are mentally ill, but that does no mean they can't live a somewhat normal life.

There are many in Rockaway, however, who want to see the men and women who now live in the adult homes moved to someplace off the peninsula to live.

"The existing residents of these facilities have no special connection with the Rockaways except that the City of New York has placed them in our neighborhood because we have so many such facilities in buildings that were once nice places," writes local attorney Howard Sirota. "If these facilities closed, the city would not and could not place all the residents in the Rockaways. They would have to place them around the five boroughs and there would no longer be a concentrated cluster of mental health facilities here and that would mean a huge increase in the quality of life for our residents."

The tag line, however, comes from a resident of the Park Inn Home For Adults on Beach 116 Street.

"Why don't you leave us alone," the man, who refused to provide his name, said. "We are people and we have a right to live a dignified life just like anybody else. We need help, and some of us are getting it here. Why can't they just leave us in peace?"

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