In a town hall meeting about the fate of the Hab Center and its clients held Tuesday evening at the Franklin P. Norman City/County Community Center, about 75 people gathered to hear this news, the most recent development in the saga of the Hab Center's evolution in the wake of state budget cuts. Some attending were from groups that work with and advocate for developmentally disabled persons; some were family or guardians of the Hab Center's clients, some were public officials, still others were property owners, business persons and developers interested in what lies in the future in terms of group homes.
Missouri State Representative Barney Fisher compared the events of the past several months to "herding snakes. When you think you've got it just about lined out, there's twists and turns."
In the spring, the budget passed by the House and Senate spelled the end of the Nevada Habilitation Center; but then a plan was conceived to construct group homes on the grounds of the facility, moving some of the residents there and maintaining facilities and 255 of the center's approximately 300 jobs, and, hopefully provide some of the continuity of care local parents and guardians passionately advocated. Fisher and Senator David Pearce worked hard on the passage of a "conveyance bill" that would enable the construction of the homes. The legislature passed the bill on the last day of the session, and it would be nearly two months before it was signed by the governor, and hope for this plan remained. But not everyone was thrilled at the prospect. While local legislators were seeking ways to make this plan a reality, advocacy groups, in particular Missouri Protection and Advocacy, an organization that fights for the civil rights of developmentally disabled persons, adamantly opposed the plan. The group threatened legal action, and took the position that group homes in such a clustered setting was still institutional living. The group strongly believes that disabled persons should live in the least restrictive environment; in the community, not clustered together and cloistered from the rest of the community. Representatives illustrated the point to the Daily Mail in July by asking, "how many non-disabled people would live in these homes?" indicating that clustering the homes changed only the shape of the institutional living and would not make them any more a part of the community than they are living in the institution.
All the while, though, the local plan for the clustered group homes hinged on approval from federal funding sources, and in the end that proved to be the undoing of that plan.
Keith Schafer, director of the Missouri Department of Mental Health, told the crowd that about a week or so ago, he received word that "the federal agencies are not in support of building congregate homes on a campus like this." With that, the clustered group homes notion disappeared.
Instead, ISLs are proposed, "sooner than later," Schafer said.
Schafer said there are two types of ISLs -- state operated ones and privately operated ones. The ISLs are three-bedroom homes housing developmentally disabled persons, where support services are provided. A number of area builders and real estate professionals have expressed interest. Already, there are 19 former Hab Center residents living in Nevada in ISLs. Of those now housed at the Hab Center, 22 families have indicated an interest in this, and 18 of those have said they'd like to have a state run facility, in which the builder leases the home to the families and the state provides the treatments and support services needed. Forty-three of the residents and their families or guardians have not expressed their desired living arrangement.
"We are not closing the program. There will still be direct care staff, a day center," and other services, and Schafer said that if past experiences are any indication, the vast majority of clients' families will choose state-run ISLs.
Schafer said the community can expect ISLs to open somewhere in the next year or so. If all of the homes end up coming to Nevada, the city would have what Schafer called "a significant number" of ISLs; about 12 now and about a dozen more in the future. "If Nevada decides it's too many, we will look for receptive communities in a 30-mile radius. We want to preserve that state staff positions as close to Nevada as possible," phasing them in over the next three years.
"These people will be buying groceries, contributing to the economy," he noted.
The homes could be new construction or rehabbed existing homes, and should the residents move or die, other residents on a waiting list desiring an ISL accommodation in Nevada would have the opportunity to move in.
Responding to a question about funding, Schafer explained that funding is in place for this option for all those currently served by the Hab Center, and that the cost of the ISLs is $72 less per day than housing them in the Hab Center.
Responding to another concern about what recourse is available to property owners if the property is damaged by residents, Schafer said that's best addressed at the time a contract is entered into, addressing who pays for what and when. He was quick to note, though, that "the vast majority of people who live in ISLs live in a very good setting and are delighted to be part of the community; and they are great citizens," but there will always be a few who are not.
Crisis stabilization was another concern; but Schafer said that's an issue best worked out at the local level.
Jennifer Gundy, executive director at On My Own, Inc., took note of the elephant in the room when she addressed an issue on the minds of many. "I grew up in Nevada," she said, and is aware there are concerns about Hab Center clients being more integrated into the community, "But they're already in the community. They're already going to Wal-Mart, going places in the community. Nothing is going to change. This should be something we try to embrace, to be proud we are allowing people to live more independently."
Fisher said the ISL plan would still keep jobs in Nevada if the homes are built here, and "They keep giving us lemons .... we're trying to make lemonade."
At the close of the meeting, Susan Pritchard-Green, director of the Missouri Planning council for Developmental Disability, said the group is anxious to help with the process; and Shawn DeLoyola, director of Missouri Protection and Advocacy was ecstatic.
"I think this is fantastic news. I think it plays into the many ways people can embrace people with disabilities. It's a win-win," by enabling disabled persons greater immersion in the community and preserving area jobs at the same time. "I don't think you'll find any opposition in the disability advocacy community."
A day program center, administrative offices and other support services will still be needed, but will come "further down the road," Schafer said. Builders and real estate professionals interested in finding out more about building ISLs in the community are urged to contact Chris Baker, superintendent of the Nevada Hab Center as soon as possible.
The fate of the existing Hab Center buildings is undecided, but Schafer suggested that the city might be the best entity to deal with their disposition.