Group-home free zone?

Bel Air: State should join action against town if it seeks to impose unreasonable restrictions.

June 17, 1999

IF THE TOWN of Bel Air legislates against group homes to block residential drug-rehabilitation, the state attorney general should join in legal action against it.

State government relies on group homes to treat people with health and social problems as it shrinks the large institutions that once filled this need. It can't well have towns declaring themselves virtual "group-home free zones."

The Bel Air commissioners, who may vote on the issue Monday, seem to recognize they're on thin ice. Their proposal would treat group homes for certain populations -- juveniles and recovering substance abusers -- more harshly than homes for other groups such as the mentally ill, restricting them to high-density areas. Town leaders point with alarm to a proliferation of group homes, but provide no numbers, and "police issues," but offer no specifics.

Bel Air's vague opposition is not unique. A Sun editorial series this spring titled "Misplaced fears" described the push by local governments nationwide to restrict group homes in violation of federal anti-discrimination law.

The Bel Air bill follows a proposal by Maryland Recovery Partners Inc. to open a sixth group home for recovering addicts and alcoholics in the Harford County town. There are no reports of problems with homes run by this outfit in Bel Air. Nebulous objections that the homes serve clients from beyond the town ignore the fact that group homes far away have sometimes served residents of Bel Air.

The county sheriff has on occasion had to respond to drunken patrons outside of bars and restaurants in Bel Air, yet commissioners haven't contemplated outlawing those establishments because their clientele occasionally causes a disturbance. The commissioners' group homes blockade will likely only result in town residents footing a big legal bill to defend flawed legislation. The state should advise Bel Air to back off.

Pub Date: 6/17/99

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