Judge Orders Evacuation Of Adult Homes
In what is being termed a victory for the mentally ill and their advocates, a federal judge ruled on Monday that New York State must immediately begin moving thousands of people with mental illness into their own apartments or small homes, taking them from the large, institutional adult homes that advocates say, keep them isolated from the rest of society.
The decision by Judge Nicholas Garaufis of the Federal District Court followed his September ruling that conditions in the adult homes violated the Americans with Disability Act.
When the state answered Garaufis’ decision by offering to open 200 units of supported housing for the mentally ill over three years, the judge rejected the plan as being inadequate. He said at the time that the state could not use a fiscal crisis as an excuse for “warehousing” the mentally ill.
Instead, in this week’s ruling, Garaufis ordered the state to develop at least 1,500 units of supported housing over the next three years. Those who live in supported housing will live alone or in small groups and get specialized visiting mental health services from the state, experts say.
Garaufis added that only people with the most severe mental illness, including those deemed to be a danger to themselves or others, would be allowed to stay in the present adult homes. In addition, residents eligible for supported housing could choose to stay in the adult homes as long as they were officially told of their options.
Garaufis said that he would appoint a monitor for the program to make sure the state obeys his ruling.
Advocates for the mentally ill saw the decision as a victory long in coming.
“For more than 25 years, many adult home residents have lived in substandard conditions,” said Glenn Lieberman, a spokesperson for the Mental Health Association of New York State (MHANYS), a mental health 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.”
“This will give adult home residents the opportunity to live the way the rest of us do,” said Jennifer Mathis, deputy legal director for the Bazelon Center, which provided legal support for the lawsuit. “In the future, people should not be steered to adult homes if they don’t want it and don’t need it.”
Jeffrey Edelman, president of the New York Coalition for Quality Assisted Living, which represents the majority of the group homes, called the order “irresponsible” and “deeply disturbing.”
Edelman told New York Times reporter A. G. Sulzburger, “The judge’s decision, entirely following the advocate’s agenda, could force thousands of mentally ill from their stable lives into independent living situations for which the majority are neither psychiatrically suited nor prepared.”
Shortly after the judge’s decision was made public in September, a clinician who works for the state, but who declined to be identified because he had no permission to speak with The Wave, said that the great majority of the mentally ill residents who live in 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.”
Jonathan Gaska, the district manager for Community Board 14, voiced the frustration over the ruling shared by many Rockaway residents.
“Often, people who make decisions like this don’t have the facilities in their neighborhoods and don’t have to live with the consequences,” Gaska said, adding that Rockaway houses 60 percent of all the adult home beds in Queens.
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 Wave crest Home for Adults.
On Tuesday, Governor David Paterson issued a terse one-sentence statement pledging to appeal the judge’s decision.