2009-12-04 / Top Stories

Adult Housing Plan Rejected By Feds, Advocacy Groups

By Howard Schwach

The Park Inn Home For Adults is one of the local homes named in the lawsuit. The Park Inn Home For Adults is one of the local homes named in the lawsuit. Both federal prosecutors and advocacy groups are blasting a state plan to move the mentally ill out of "institutionalized" adult homes and into the community by funding 1,000 units of supported housing over the next five years.

"For more than 25 years, many adult home residents have lived in substandard conditions," said Glenn Lieber - man, a spokesperson for the Mental Health Association of New York State (MHANYS), an advocacy group. ""It is time for the state to retool their plan and provide the resources necessary for people with psychiatric difficulties in adult homes to transition to independent housing."

"The state's reply to the judge's ruling is inadequate," Karen Schimke, the head of Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy, told The Wave. "It does not do the job, it is not in keeping with the judge's decision, and it is just not moral."

"It is just wrong," she added.

Experts say that there are 4,300 mentally ill residents in adult homes throughout the state with more than 120 beds. Those nursing homes, including a dozen in Rockaway with more than 1,700 residents, are the targets in a lawsuit brought by several advocacy groups in the name of the mentally ill living in the homes.

State officials came up with the 1,000 new supported housing units in response to a ruling in September by Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis that said the state is violating federal law by "warehousing" mentally disabled adults in group homes rather than in more appropriate settings. That law mandates that those mentally disabled be housed "in the least restrictive environment."

Schimke told The Wave this week that the bottom line for the advocacy groups is that all of the residents of those adult homes named in the lawsuit be relocated in supported housing "either in the community where they have family or in the community in which they are presently living - the community they know the best and will be the most comfortable."

The state plan would allow the mentally disabled to remain in the adult home should they want to and would move to a supported home environment only those willing to do so and only those who are able to care for themselves on a day to day basis.

Federal prosecutors and advocacy groups have rejected that plan, however.

"Defendants may not now hide behind arguments against coming into compliance with the law that [Gar - aufis] has already rejected," said Brook lyn U.S. Attorney Benton Camp - bell. "They must take the steps to comply with the federal law."

Shortly after the judge's decision was made public, a clinician who works for the state, but who declined to be identified, said that upwards of 90 percent of the mentally ill residents of Rockaway adult homes would not be eligible for supported housing because they cannot adequately care for themselves.

He sees that as one safeguard that would keep large numbers of mentally ill men and women from being distributed throughout the peninsula.

The safeguards aside, many locals remain worried that the mentally ill moved into community homes and apartments would negatively impact the peninsula - especially with such a large number of adult home residents living on the peninsula.

"Placing mentally ill people into a stable community will only serve to destabilize it," one real estate broker, who asked not to be identified, said. "There are so many vacant rental units in Rockaway, I am afraid that the state will use the peninsula as a dumping ground for as many mentally ill as they can cram in."

Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer says that she supports the plan put forth by the state in response to the judge's decision.

"Adult homes provide a valuable and unique service to a drastically underserved community. The State of New York has offered a plan to begin providing alternative housing for eligible individuals. While some of the residents may benefit from alternative type housing, many are appropriately placed in our local adult homes and desire to continue residing in their home," she said. "I have visited several of the adult homes in our area and many of the residents have expressed their desire to continue living in the home, while some have expressed the desire to relocate to a more independent environment. I believe that some of the current residents will benefit from a less restrictive and more independent living situation, while others, unfortunately, will never be successful in an independent situation. I welcome implementation of the State's plan and look forward to continuing to work to ensure that the needs of the residents and the community are not overly burdened by a hasty court action."

Community Board 14 District Manager Jonathan Gaska said that moving the mentally ill into the community will "have a major impact on housing on the peninsula."

Schimke, however, says that, while she understands the fear of the mentally disabled moving into the community, that fear is not realistic.

"The fear of the mentally disabled is not real, it's the stigma. They are just like everybody else, like you and me. All people are different in some way,"

The adult homes impacted by the lawsuit are the 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.

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