Judge orders people labeled ‘mentally ill’ released from adult homes

A very good legal decision came down recently in New York City.

This decision was covered by a story in the March 1st New York Times, Judge Orders New York City to Move Mentally Ill out of Large, Institutional Housing.

The decision, by Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis of Federal District Court in Brooklyn, followed his ruling in September that the conditions at more than two dozen privately run adult homes in New York City violated the Americans With Disabilities Act by leaving approximately 4,300 mentally ill residents isolated in warehouselike conditions.

When the problem is a lack of housing, maybe the solution is to provide more housing.

The remedial plan offered by Judge Garaufis, drawn from a proposal presented by advocates for the mentally ill that was backed by the Justice Department, calls on New York to develop at least 1,500 units of so-called supported housing a year for the next three years in New York City. That would give nearly all residents the opportunity to move out of adult homes.

‘Adult homes’ are not the right words to use to describe these facilities in which the residents are treated like irresponsible children, or incompetent invalids.

The lawsuit was filed in 2003 by Disability Advocates, a nonprofit legal services group, after a series of articles in The New York Times that described a system in which residents were poorly monitored and barely cared for, left to swelter in the summer and sometimes subjected to needless medical treatment and operations for Medicaid reimbursement.

Abuses and human rights violations, as the above indicates, are frequent in these facilities. In an adult home, as in a state hospital, people are often warehoused, or kept in cold storage, apart from the meaningful, give and take relationships that might exist in a more vibrant and dynamic environment.

The Judge’s decision represents a rejection of the state’s proposal which would have set a cap on the number of new supported housing units created. Judge Garaufis stated that only those people with the most severe disabilities should be housed in adult homes. He left the group home an option for anybody who would chose to do so to enter, if such a person so desired.

We can only hope that other cities in New York state and beyond might follow New York City’s lead in allowing a life for those of its citizens who are recovering from the experience of institutionalization in a mental health facility.