2009-10-09 / Top Stories

Argument Grows Over Closing Adult Homes

By Howard Schwach

Mental health advocates say that the ruling will "give the mentally ill a chance to live with dignity."

Local community activists, however, say that the ruling will destabilize communities already rocked with falling home prices and foreclosures.

"When the battle over housing the mentally ill gets out of the ivory tower of academia and the courthouse, where people are free to speculate on nirvana, and gets to the street level, where people have to live with their decisions, that's where the battle lies," said one community activist. "And, it looks as if we are losing."

The ruling in questions, of course, is the one made in federal court a few weeks ago by Judge Nicholas Garaufis stating that a number of Rockaway's adult homes (as well as several others throughout the city that had more than 120 beds) would have to be closed and their residents moved to more humane apartment and small home settings.

That ruling has touched off an argument that has become more fervent and partisan as the weeks go on.

Linda Rosenberg is a mental health expert who once was a senior deputy in the New York State Office of Mental Health and who now runs an advocacy group called the National Council for Community Behavioral Health Care. Rosenberg was one of the many mental health professionals who testified as an expert witness before Judge Garaufis prior to his ruling.

"In the adult homes, residents cannot make the most basic of decisions, such as what to wear or when to eat," Rosenberg said recently in an op-ed piece in the Daily News. "Having a guest for dinner or overnight is out of the question."

She argues that there are already more than 13,000 persons with mental illness who successfully live in supported housing in New York State.

"They are your neighbors," she says, "but you probably do not know it."

Locals, however, those who deal on a daily basis with residents of the myriad of adult homes in Rockaway, who

often aggressively panhandle on

Beach 116 Street or along Rockaway ................................ Beach Boulevard near the Surfside Adult Home, do not believe it.

"Placing mentally ill tenants in apartments will destabilize the communities they live in," says one local real estate broker who asked not to be identified. "Can you imagine trying to sell a home to prospective buyers who see some mentally ill, disheveled, mumbling patients who live next door? The market is tough enough without having that anchor."

The realtor also fears that owners of vacant homes will take advantage of the ruling to rent their homes to the state for large sums of money.

"Absentee landlords will reap a windfall because the state will pay premium prices for their vacant apartments," she said. "They won't care that renting to the mental ill will destabilize the community and lead to more vacant apartments, because their present tenants will flee."

A local mental health professional who has ties to several of the adult homes on the peninsula says that many of his clients will not be able to handle living outside an institutional setting.

The professional, who asked not to be identified because he has no permission to speak with the press," said recently, "In my judgment, five to ten percent of the adult home residents are suitable candidates for supported housing. Why so few? Because the client population in [Rockaway's] adult homes is a more regressed, impaired and symptomatic group whose condition and abilities to function without 24-hour supervision is such that they cannot sustain stable, adaptive functioning in the community even with semi-independent living arrangements."

Rosenberg, however, seems to believe that all of the present residents of adult homes can be moved safely to individual apartments.

"Supported housing allows people who are diagnosed with serious mental illness, people no different from those warehoused in adult homes, to achieve independent lives in their community."

The state's Department of Mental Health has until late October to present to the court a plan to remediate the adult home problem.

Many, like Rosenberg, believe that means closing the homes and moving the residents to individual apartments.

Others, like Congressman Anthony

Weiner, think that some deal might be

.......... worked out to keep the homes open and the majority of residents in those homes.

"We could reduce the headcounts in the homes," Weiner told The Wave. "They could spread them out a bit. We could change the way they are cared for. There are always other solutions for the state to pursue."

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