For adults with disabilities, living in a group home can be the perfect blend of independence and supervision, offering the supports they need while allowing them to live as part of the larger community. However, the proposed placement of a group home in a particular neighborhood often leads to resistance from residents. Their concerns are understandable but they are often unfounded. In reality, group homes almost always coexist peacefully with their neighbors.
Group homes are good for the health of the individuals served by them and they are also good for the health of the community. Adults with developmental or other disabilities benefit from varied social interaction. When certain groups of people are isolated from others, unwarranted fears and resentments can build. The vision of people with disabilities living their lives as an integral part of the community has proven to be a vast improvement over past over-reliance on institutional solutions.
Nevertheless, neighborhood residents often resist the placement of group homes. Their apprehensions may include declining property values, safety issues, or an increase in traffic. Residents’ concerns may stem from a fear of the different or the unknown. However, multiple studies have shown that the presence of group homes has little effect on property values and the problems envisioned by residents do not materialize. Often, residents objecting to group homes say that they want people with disabilities to have a home, just somewhere else – “not in my backyard.”
Often the law must protect the human rights of a few from what the majority might prefer. New York’s Padavan Law prevents communities from excluding group homes unless the area is already saturated or a better site in the same community can be found. Communities often file objections but they rarely succeed in blocking a group home.
Because of the Padavan Law, passed in 1978, a quiet revolution has taken place in New York. The care of adults with developmental disabilities shifted from institutional care to community settings. However, to achieve a community that truly understands, welcomes and supports people with disabilities, we need not just strong laws, but people willing to speak out for what is right. Noam Bramson, the mayor New Rochelle, showed that leadership in an eloquent website post that called for community support of group homes. Bramson wrote that at a recent City Hall meeting, residents of a tight-knit, middle class neighborhood spoke overwhelmingly against a proposed group home and the City Administration responded by filing the appropriate objection with the state Office of Mental Health. Bramson publicly opposed the City’s action, despite the residents’ concerns. Indeed, he said that he knew the residents would eventually greet their new neighbors with courtesy and warmth. Bramson knew the objection was likely to fail and he could have kept quiet, but he chose to take a stand in support of people who often lack an effective political voice of their own.
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