NY’s Disabled Adults Win Court Ruling

As Jennifer Gonnerman detailed in “Surf Manor” in the current issue of Mother Jones, New York’s poorly maintained adult homes are where the mentally ill and very poor, with no place else to go to, are warehoused by the state. The homes regulate everything for them, from what to eat to when to take medication: “You get stifled—and you regress,” one adult home resident told Gonnerman. “You become dependent on these people, and I don’t want that.” Many residents would rather be in “supported housing,” where they can do their own laundry and make their own meals and receive regular visits by a caseworker. Too bad such units are incredibly scarce: only 60 units of supported housing have been opened for New York City’s 4,300 adult home residents since 2002. 

But that’s going to change: a ruling issued today by Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis of the Federal District Court in Brooklyn ordered the state to develop at least 1,500 units of supported housing a year for three years. This ruling follows a September 2009 decision in which a judge ruled that adult homes were by their nature segregation and thus a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. As reported by the New York Times, the state has repeatedly fought new housing, arguing that recent improvements to existing homes were adequate: 

The order by Judge Garaufis offered a stinging rebuke of the much less sweeping proposed remedy offered by the state, which continued to dispute many of the findings of his previous rulings and which sought to cap the number of new supportive housing units at 1,000, to be made available on a more restrictive basis over five years. “The court is disappointed and, frankly, incredulous that defendants sincerely believed this proposal would suffice,” the judge wrote in his ruling Monday.

The state had argued that, particularly in current economic conditions, such a mandate would be too expensive. But the judge wrote last year that evidence showed that supported housing would cost only $40,253 a year per resident, about $7,500 less than it costs to place them in a group home.

“This is a tremendous order,” said attorney Cliff Zucker, whose firm Disability Advocates Inc. filed a lawsuit against the state on behalf of adult home residents. “We think that this order will end the disgraceful practice that’s been allowed to go on in New York for decades: warehousing people in institutions when they can live in integrated settings in the community.” Zucker said the state can appeal the ruling, which could potentially delay implementation. And even if the state does not appeal, monitors will be needed to ensure the state properly implements the ruling. “There’s much work ahead of us,” said Zucker, but he says the order is “bringing us some relief.”