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Letter: Group homes much better than institutional settings

Group homes much better than institutional settings

Lest we forget, once there was a terrible place called Willowbrook State School on Staten Island. Six thousand people diagnosed as mentally disabled lived there. They lived in cold, drafty buildings in wards with as many as 40 of their unclothed peers, many of whom slept in their own excrement.

Today, 27,000 people with mental disabilities across this state live in community settings. Many are productive members of society. Some even hold paying jobs.

Some letter writers have suggested that the complex soon to be vacated by the beloved Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo could provide a solution to long waiting lists for living arrangements for mentally challenged persons. I fully appreciate and understand the anxiety of families who currently have few options for permanent living facilities for a family member with mental and/or intellectual disabilities.

My own son, Bob, was born with developmental disabilities nearly 50 years ago. He was educated in the public school setting, and for the last 26 years he has lived in a community residence operated by SASi/Claddagh Commission in Derby. These service-providing agencies guide him with decision making and teach him good life skills. Our family is encouraged to be involved in his life, and we are.

As parents and guardians of those who will always need care and services, let’s keep fighting for New York State to build group homes. It was parents and guardians who closed places like Willowbrook 40 years ago and opened a new world for their disabled sons and daughters.

Lest we forget, we must never go back to the institutional setting.

Joan D. Harms