A good neighborhood is a welcoming one

April 4, 2013

Once upon a time, people with mental and physical disabilities who could not be cared for by their families were placed in institutions. We referred to these places as “hospitals,” which made us feel better about keeping these people permanently out of sight, and thus out of mind.

Reformers in the 1970s said these institutions were more like prisons or concentration camps and called for their closing. They insisted that patients (we called them “the retarded” at that time) would do much better living in normal situations, in small group homes that would enable them to experience something of the life the rest of us enjoyed, like jobs and backyards and windows without bars.

One by one, the institutions were shut down. Some patients, many of whom had spent their entire lives under constant care, would do poorly in the residential settings. The families of these people decried the loss of the institutions and the oversight and centralized care they provided. Many former mental patients, judged to be able to live normally on their own under medication, instead became the deranged and unmedicated homeless.

But there was no going back. The institutions would not be reopened or rebuilt. And truth is that most of the people placed in group homes did well in their new living arrangements. Many have found employment and the companionship and responsibility that work can bring.

In this area, the disabled residents have proven to be good neighbors. Yet, some of us would still prefer that they live somewhere else.

Residents of a Washington neighborhood voiced objections earlier this week to a planned group home for three people at 511 East Wheeling St. The house, which has been purchased by NHS Human Services, a company that operates 671 homes across the country including some in Washington County, is just a few feet from the East Washington Borough line.

Neighbors expressed concern that the change would lower their property values and alter the “family-friendly” atmosphere. City Council was to hold a hearing on the matter last night.

The “family-friendly” neighborhood is the ideal place for a group home for the developmentally disabled. The alternatives are dismal: rural locations too far for residents to walk to their jobs, or urban areas too dangerous for them to do so.

The objecting residents should consider the successful history of group homes in this county for more than three decades, and be assured that their new neighbors are at least a known quantity. The alternative is taking chances with whoever else might move in. The comings and goings of caregivers might be a lot easier to put up with than loud parties, property neglect, drug dealing or domestic violence and gunplay that could result.

Moreover, what neighborhood is more desirable than one that is welcoming?



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