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Group Home to Expand Despite Neighborhood Concerns

by ARLnow.com — December 10, 2012 at 6:30 pm 3,806 47 Comments

A nonprofit will be allowed to house six adults with mental illnesses in the Alcova Heights neighborhood, despite objections from neighbors.

Since April, a single-family house at 3704 2nd Street S. has been operating as a low-barrier group home for four (4) adults with mental illnesses transitioning from homelessness. New Hope Housing, the Alexandria-based nonprofit that operates the dormitory, has been seeking a use permit to increase the maximum number of adults housed at the dormitory to six (6).

The use permit request drew criticism from neighbors at Saturday’s Arlington County Board meeting.

Residents told the Board that there was a lack of supervision and communication from the nonprofit for the first 4-5 months that the group home — called Susan’s Place — was in operation. Several neighbors described residents of the shelter cursing and spitting at them as they walked by, a resident who sat in a broken chair in the front yard talking to himself until midnight, and other disturbances. Residents and neighborhood representatives said neighbors were not notified that the group home would be opening, and didn’t know who to contact with concerns.

New Hope Housing Executive Director Pamela Michell told the Board that the problems went uncorrected for several months because a key staff member was on an extended personal leave, working on a master’s degree in social work. She said the organization typically doesn’t give neighbors a heads up when they open a new group home because of fair housing laws, but called that a mistake in retrospect.

“There was a lack of communication,” she admitted. “We did not come and talk to the neighborhood. That was obviously a mistake.”

Still, Michell said the organization was not aware of any problems during the first few months the group home was open. She said a staff person was on-site during that time, and disputed the assertion of neighbors that they made a reasonable effort to voice concerns about resident behavior.

“Frankly, no one knocked on our door and said there was a concern,” Michell said. “Since the staff person didn’t observe it and since nobody complained, we didn’t know there was something that needed to be addressed.”

In a letter to county staff, the Alcova Heights Citizens Association said they only obtained information about New Hope Housing when an attorney for the organization contacted them seeking support for expansion of the group home. The first meeting between neighbors and New Hope staff took place on Aug. 14.

“This appears to be a lapse in management,” County Board member Jay Fisette said to Michell. “You guys did something wrong.”

Fisette and other Board members were swayed, however, by accounts that problems with the group home have largely been corrected since that meeting. They were also supportive of conditions for the use permit agreed to by New Hope Housing, including 24-hour on-site supervision, a neighborhood liaison who can be reached by phone by residents, an administrative review after 5 months and a County Board review in 9 months.

“Because it has improved… I think this is going to work,” Fisette said. “Six people, five people or four doesn’t really matter. It’s the management issues around it.”

Fisette also noted that many of the residents who expressed concerns about the group home also expressed support for New Hope’s overall mission to help the homeless.

The Board approved the use permit by a 5-0 vote.

Board member Chris Zimmerman echoed Board Chair Mary Hynes in commending the “vital function in our community” that nonprofits like New Hope play in helping to combat homelessness.

Photo via Google Maps

  • NIMBY the Hen

    What we have is a failure to communicate

  • Elle K

    Doesn’t Alcova Heights already have another group home on South Monroe Street?

    • AlCoVAres

      Yes, there is another mental health group home on Monroe.

      As an Alcova resident , there was an overall poor establishment of Susan’s Place within the neighborhood. The organization moved there with the intent to expand in February, but did not reach out to the neighbors until after they had applied for the change in zoning permit in August. From February until the first meeting in August, the house was so poorly mismanaged that residents thought it was a crack house and were scared to go near it. NHH scattered to correct things as quickly as possible, but already made the neighbors not trust them. During this hearing, the association asked the board to delay the expansion until next August to assure that they can operate for 1 year with no issues. Due to there not being any outstanding issues over the last couple of months (a shorter period than they were not in compliance) the board saw that there was no need to wait any longer.

  • Mary-Austin

    When the County Board decided they wanted to support a group home in my neighborhood (Barcroft) we got the “we do whatever we want” treatment from the board.
    Everyone was pissed and wrote in John Barcroft for County Board that year.

    • drax

      What did you your neighborhood ask the Board to do ?

      • Mary-Austin

        Not approve a large group home for substance abusers on a pipestem lot in the middle of the neighborhood.

        • drax

          Oh. Well, in that case, I’m not surprised you were ignored. You should have been. You wanted to “get whatever you wanted” too.

          Next time be reasonable and not 100% NIMBY and maybe you’ll get listened to.

  • southarlington

    It is the same for everything in this county ….vote them out !!!!! If it bothers you do something …

    • 1RLI

      “…vote them out.” Good luck with that. Seems the only turnover on the County Board is voluntary.

  • Roquer

    About 15 years ago, the neighbors around me in the East Falls Church area went nuts for this exact same reason. Since then, there has never been an outbreak of nuts going more crazy, never a loud word spoken from inside or outside the home, never any issues between the nuts and the keepers of the nuts. Never any problem at all. If anyone reads this, they may not like the description of the nuts there, but I hope to allay any fears anyone may have because they home is just another quiet little place in our neighborhood.

    • drax

      They are people, not nuts.

    • Rick

      Is that house actually a functioning group home? The big monster on Sycamore?

      • Easton

        I think Roquer is referring to a house on Roosevelt St. I lived near there for about a year before I realized that it was a group home. Clearly, it’s pretty well-run — I’ve never seen anything out of the ordinary. I don’t know what types of people the place serves, but it shows that group homes can function unobtrusively in a residential setting.

        But it’s probably all about the management competency… not so sure about this place in Alcova Heights… I definitely understand the neighborhood’s frustration in dealing with the County on this issue.

  • dd

    Neighbors withdrew their objections once they learned that a small, organic market would be joining the new residents in the space.

    “I think this will help us become a more cohesive community,” noted one resident.

    “Just give me my arugula,” stated another.

    • Faye Jissette

      ….no one has yet to mention the black box theater that will be in the home….it can function as a feeder system for the ‘Sphere !!

  • Hollywood

    What a great idea, nothing could possibly go wrong!

    • drax

      What, having people with mental illness live in the community?

      They already do, all over the place, even yours.

  • froyo joe

    why not house them at Ballston Commons and get some use out of that thing we call a mall

  • Greg

    Would love to see how Zimm, Fisette, Tejada, and Hynes would feel if a group home was stood up right next to them.

    • drax

      But you won’t actually do them the courtesy of asking them, you’ll just assume.

  • Chris “I take bribes” Zimmie

    Don’t care about your comments.

  • Max

    There are several group homes in Clarendon. And most people probably don’t even know it.

    • KalashniKEV

      OMGOSH… really?

      Wagon Boy and the weird Grandma Guy??

      Nope, they’re totally invisible…

      • drax

        Do you know where they live?

        While we’re on the subject, Wagon Boy is clearly intellectually disabled and not mentally ill. Do you hate those people too? We’re pretty sure you hate the mentally ill already, but some additional clarification is needed. Maybe it would be a shorter list if you told who you don’t hate.

      • drax

        Oh, and another thing, Kev, are you immune to mental illness or disability? Are your family members immune? Just checking. Not that I don’t already suspect something.

      • Max

        You’re right, I forgot about the young man that Someone that occasionally helps around the neighborhood and eagerly says hi to people passing by. What a terrible blight on a neighborhood.

        • drax

          I know I’d be glad to pay for Wagon Boy to be my neighbor if I could prevent certain other people from living in my neighborhood.

  • Curious

    I’m curious, do you have to disclose there is a homeless shelter next door, across the street, when you try to sell your home?

    • Nope

      Nope.

  • CD

    How many homeless are warehoused in Arlington – all locations? One thousand? Two thousand?

    • Josh S

      “warehoused?”

      I hope you get coal in your stocking.

  • bobbytiger

    “The Board approved the use permit by a 5 – 0 vote”
    Am all giggles that the Board members have apparently set aside their petty differences, and can now be counted on to yet again vote in unison.

    • novasteve

      Well, more assured votes for them.

  • emanon

    Group homes serve people of varying degrees of mental illness, other types of disabilities, and often times people who are just in dire straights for any number of reasons. When well run, they should not impact the quality of life of a community in a negative way. This one sounds like it was poorly run, with a community that was stewing silently about it rather than getting their concerns voiced to the proper organization (I understand that they may have tried, and not known where to turn, and also appreciate the fact that with the residents cursing and spitting at them, walking up and knocking on the door was probably not high on their list of ways to address the issue).

    To the poster who repeatedly used the word “nuts” above… I sincerely hope that no one in your family or circle of friends ever battles a mental illness. But if someone does, I surely hope you will find some compassion for them in the same way the Grinch came to like Christmas. Honestly, even with your feable attempt at an apology for your use of that word, it’s pretty darn hurtful.

    • drax

      Everyone who is immune to mental illness or disability, or whose family is immune, raise your hands.

      • novasteve

        While that’s very truly, why are so many people so overly sensitive to being called mentally ill? The DSM is now completley politically correct. Things are being removed so that feelings don’t get hurt.

    • dk (not DK)

      I really thought the person above using the term “nuts” was making fun of the people who protest group homes in their neighborhood because they are afraid of problems caused by so-called “nuts.”

      • drax

        I read it more carefully. You’re right, he actually referred to both as nuts. Which is a little better.

        • Miss Manners

          Good to know that the arbiter of all things is on the job and approves !!!

    • http://www.newhopehousing.org/?page_id=131 NHHwebDesc

      The residents for Susan’s place have “serious and persistent mental health challenges, previously lived on the streets, and were resistant to services”

  • Seamus Puddlefish

    Shame on all of you who want to segregate people based on something they cannot change. Reminiscent of the arguments against the Civil Rights Act.
    Haters gonna hate.

    • Also curious

      Recognizing that the county should set the conditions for charities to help the disabled and homeless, concentrating these types of homes and shelters in a few areas can’t be good–either for those who need the help or for the neighborhoods in which they are located. Wonder if there is a map of all locations (generally) in the county, and whether this shows a North v. South divide, as I suspect.

  • http://www.pimmithillsnews.blogspot.com/ GMHeller

    No doubt property values are now increasing on that Arlington County street. The neighbors must have been thrilled to wake up one fine morning last Spring to find that a Group Home had just taken over a house in their neighborhood.
    Fairfax County is proposing to place a similar type of Group-Home in Pimmit Hills, but the County Community Services Board (CSB) will not put in writing anything limiting either the number of residents or whether there would be prohibitions against housing ex-drug addicts or persons who had had run-ins with the law.
    Oh, and lest we forget, check out the number of schizophrenics in CSB’s client base,
    people who if they miss any of their daily meds, you better WATCH OUT!
    Case in point: The vicious knife murder a few months back a thousand feet from Pimmit Hills on Old Meadow Road at the offices of PRS, Inc. of a 50-something ‘client’ by a 20-something ‘client’. PRS, formerly Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services, Inc., is one of CSB’s main vendors providing psych services to group-home clients. Please also note how little press coverage that bloody crime got, and there’s been little if any press follow-up in re the status of any criminal prosecution. Hell, because the killer’s court-appointed lawyer can justifiably argue temporary insanity, the guy might even now be back on the street living in some CSB group home in a quiet neighborhood (maybe in Arlington County!) whose residents, because of federal and state privacy laws regarding group-home clients, have no knowledge whatsoever that there is a killer in their midst who if he misses his meds could go berserk again.

  • http://www.pimmithillsnews.blogspot.com/ GMHeller
  • in the middle

    As a neighbor to a mental health group home, I have to say that this is not a black and white sort of issue. I am not a NIMBY, and am supportive of these homes. However, when a man is standing on a table to better see over the fence into my backyard with little girls, and he is later outdoors exposing himself, I take issue with that individual. He was not a good fit for this residential situation and was removed years ago.

    A second individual is slightly less clear-cut. He goes into rages and curses at the top of his angry voice. I was actually quite frightened during one ‘episode’ and called the police one day. I can tell you, I waited a lot longer than I would have it if hadn’t been a group home, but those 20 minutes were extreme.

    So, my question becomes, at what point do we get to say this isn’t working for this individual? The answer is, we (neighbors) have zero say. It’s a medical decision, and a management decision and a county decision. For the moment, they get a bit more time perhaps, because the weather is cold, and our windows and doors are closed, and everybody is indoors more. But if the same behaviour is evident in the Spring, we’ll be getting to the bottom of what recourse neighbors actually have.

    I feel strongly that neighbors should be invited into this hierarchy of folks who manage all this before a group home is established. I understand that there are medical privacy issues, but there are also management and permitting issues where the public should have some say! Maybe the company in this case doesn’t have to notify neighbors, but I believe the county should as the party ultimately responsible for permits and public safety. It was reprehensible that this house was put in place and these poor homeowners had no idea that there was any sanctioned refuge there. That they had no idea whom to call about truly awful behaviour.

    • drax

      But if a neighbor simply moves in next door by buying or renting the house, and then goes in to rages and curses and all that, you have no say whatsoever whether he can live there. So why would someone think it’s different just because it’s a group home? Perhaps you have a point because there are more than one person with a mental issue there, but otherwise, the idea is that these people live in the community. Nobody likes to have to deal with it, but it’s not like people get to decide who their neighbors are.

      I agree that it would be alot better if everyone knew who to call other than the police when there are problems. I’m pretty sure privacy means you will have absolutely no right to information about these people, before or after they move in.

      • http://www.pimmithillnews.blogspot.com/ GMHeller

        Drax, except that when your new raging and cursing neighbor moves into his new neighborhood he’s got a vested interest in maintaining the value of his property because he has likely just paid fair market value for the land and the house upon it.
        What vested interest does the 100% publicly-subsidized group-home client have in any of that?
        Remember, too, that the County is landlord of last resort and that its clients in these group-homes are individuals who have already been refused entry into private residential circumstances because their presence poses too great an insurance liability for that private owner. This could be because the client has a history of drug abuse and addiction, a history of criminal behavior, or a history of irrational and violent behavior.
        What right does the County have to jeopardize both your personal safety and that of your family, along with your property rights, so that the County can engage in an grand experiment warehousing individuals in family neighborhoods who formerly would have been institutionalized and kept from harming the general public?
        You’ll also note that these group-homes seem never to be placed anywhere near the private residences of elected county officials nor anywhere near the homes of officials who run these county agencies which handle placement of these people.
        For example, you won’t find group-homes for indigents and schizophrenics located anywhere near the private homes of any of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors nor of the officials who run the Community Services Board which has jurisdiction over group homes in Fairfax County.

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