Residents accept group home

ReVisions to build site for mentally ill adults

Agency aims to be `good neighbor'

Elkridge

November 03, 2003|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

Elkridge homeowners who were adamantly opposed to a planned group home for the mentally ill in their community have adopted an attitude of resignation toward the planned residence, community leaders say.

"They're somewhat resigned because they know it's going to take place," said Val McGuire, vice president of the Greater Elkridge Community Association. "It's federally mandated, the property is owned by ReVisions and they're going to build."

ReVisions, a nonprofit provider of services to people with psychiatric disabilities, will operate a home designed for six mentally ill adults -- all older than 50. It will be built on a Bauman Drive site adjacent to Hunt Club Estates. The residents will receive round-the-clock care and attend ReVisions' medical day care program in Catonsville, where the agency is based.

Supervisors must have at least four years' experience, and other staff will likely be licensed practical nurses or certified nursing assistants.

Hunt Club Estates residents echoed the same fears often voiced by homeowners when a group home is planned in a neighborhood -- concerns about safety and the effect on property values.

The issue came to a head in the spring at a meeting intended to answer residents' questions about the home. Instead, tempers flared because the ReVisions representative was unable to provide many answers, and in some cases gave the wrong answers.

Unanswered questions

McGuire said the representative didn't know who would live in the house -- recovering addicts, mentally ill residents able to work, or those with other disabilities. He also didn't know who would staff the house or what the residents would do during the day.

ReVisions held a second meeting last month arranged by McGuire. Panelists included the agency's new chief executive officer, John Herron, a county police officer and mental health advocates.

"I think the discussion centered on three questions," Herron said. "Does ReVisions know what they're doing? Are we adequately funded to do it well? And how can they hold us accountable?

"Beyond that, the law is that folks with mental illness can live wherever they want to live. Nobody else has to talk about their disability when they move to a neighborhood," Herron said.

`A good neighbor'

"He [Herron] wants to be a good neighbor," McGuire said, "and I think he made that very clear."

Linda Field, president of the Howard County chapter of the National Association for the Mentally Ill, said group homes for the mentally ill are desperately needed statewide.

"They provide housing, structured activities and treatment, and unfortunately we don't have enough of that," Field said.

"We see people out on the streets and that's what people associate with mentally ill," she said. "That's because they don't notice the people who are taking their medications, functioning well and are out there doing things."

Field said she had visited ReVisions group homes and found them "beautifully maintained."

The homes are generally designed for people who need a higher level of service and aren't able to work, said Jean Edelman, a board member with the local NAMI.

Frequently, the only other housing options for mentally ill adults other than group homes are to live with family members or be placed in foster care.

Field said she has a 51-year- old relative who moved into a group home from foster care, where "she did nothing all day."

Long-awaited home

A former ReVisions board member donated the Elkridge site to the agency several years ago. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded ReVisions a $531,000 grant for construction and maintenance of the property.

For the past five years, Herron said, the agency has worked to get site plan approval from the county's planning and zoning officials, a process he described as "torturous."

Herron said that ReVisions, which operates two group homes in the county, hopes to begin construction on the Elkridge house early next year.

"We'll be glad to see six more folks with mental illness have a decent place to live and get the services they need," he said.

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