Stealth lesson in health issue

Dan Rodricks

February 10, 1992|By Dan Rodricks

To get this started, let me pose and answer some questions. . . .

1. If you were shopping for a house in, say, Rodgers Forge, would you insist on a psychological profile of the neighbors before buying?

While I would be curious about the neighborhood, and the immediate neighbors in particular, I have no grounds for insisting on psychological profiles. That's ridiculous.

2. Let's say such a profile could be provided. Would you want to live next to a person who suffers from depression or schizophrenia?

No, I guess I wouldn't want to. It's not exactly something you want when you're buying a house. But depression and schizophrenia are everywhere in society. People from well-to-do families and people from poor families suffer great mental pains. It's like asking if I'd reject a house if I knew the neighbors were alcoholics.

3. Would you reject the house if the neighbors are given to fits of crying, or paranoia?

I don't think that information would keep me from buying the house, if I really liked the house and the neighborhood seemed stable.

4. What if you were told that one of your potential neighbors exhibited manic-depressive behavior?

If it was such a severe problem that it affected life in the community, then I guess I'd be reluctant to buy the house next to that person. But I'd wonder why a person with such an extreme condition wasn't getting psychiatric care. In strong neighborhoods, such behaviors aren't tolerated, and people watch out for each other.

5. Would you buy a house next to a home for three mentally ill outpatients from Sheppard Pratt Hospital?

If I really liked the house, I'd survey the community somehow to determine whether there was a problem. If the other neighbors seemed satisfied with the group home, I think I'd buy it. Personally, I think the term "mental illness" is inflammatory. It scares people. Most mental patients aren't violent. The most common forms of mental illness are a lot scarier to those who have it than to those who live next to it.

6. Would you talk down the selling price because of the house's proximity to a group home?

If there had been problems with the place, I wouldn't buy it. If, on the other hand, the group home had functioned without upsetting the community, then I'd be more interested. But I'd have a hard time talking down the price without feeling like a hypocrite. You can't tell people to be open-minded and allow things like group homes in their neighborhoods, then penalize them for doing so.

This very issue came up last week in Rodgers Forge, where such a group home -- an "alternative living unit" -- is proposed. As a matter of fact, this will be the third such Sheppard Pratt ALU in Rodgers Forge. The other two are virtually unknown to the community because they have not created problems.

This time, Sheppard Pratt went publicly to the community for support. This time, there was a lot of opposition. One man said: "I have nothing against the idea or against the types of people who will live there, but I have an investment to protect. My wife and I have every penny we own invested in our home, and you can't tell me this program isn't going to hurt my property value."

That's an understandable and predictable reaction. Two summers ago, many people in the Springdale community in Cockeysville applauded the efforts of Sandy Guarino. She and her husband wanted to offer foster care for children with AIDS, mostly abandoned little kids from Baltimore. The people of Springdale really admired what Guarino wanted to do.

They just wanted her to do it somewhere else.

As Sheppard Pratt officials did with the Rodgers Forge ALU, Guarino went to the community for support. After her proposal was rejected by Springdale, the state attorney general's office offered to help Guarino with legal action; she was told she had strong legal footing to pursue her plan. But the foster home was unwanted. So Guarino gave up on Springdale. However, she didn't give up on her idea.

This summer, the Guarinos hope to have their foster home for AIDS babies.

"We're looking at three properties right now, but this time I'm not telling anyone anything," she said last night. "I learned my lesson. That's the way you have to do it. Just do it, and don't tell anyone."

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