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2013-09-19 / Telling It Like It Is

Telling It Like It Is

You’re Disabled...Please, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
By Dara Mormile

Everyone deserves to live in a decent home in a nice community. Everyone deserves to feel welcomed into their new home. Right? Well, what if you’re a war veteran or a paraplegic and you were lucky enough to find a home in Canarsie but NO ONE WANTS YOU HERE!!! Imagine you're disabled or elderly and there was a house set up exclusively for your needs – but you're not even aware of the fact that your neighbors dislike you...what’s worse – you've never even met them!

During my years at the Canarsie Courier, I've reported on countless stories that bash the establishment of group homes, low-income housing, shelters and residential facilities for the developmentally disabled. I never thought about voicing my opinion on these establishments since they're presented as a business to our community and then they're pretty much a done deal. You can also bash the Community Board for the “advisory” role it plays in all of these homes coming to our neighborhood. But why blame anyone for the approval of projects which are serving those who are less fortunate than you? Sometimes, I like to play devil's advocate. So here it is.

The human side of this might make protestors look like they think they’re better than those who are mentally disadvantaged. We've heard that our community is “oversaturated” with group homes. I personally feel that there are plenty of other things our community doesn’t need – like the abundance of storefront churches, nail salons and automobile businesses which extend their services beyond their location and infringe on residential properties. Is anyone protesting the fact that we've got more hair salons here than restaurants? We're saturated with a whole lot of child daycare centers in privately owned homes. We don't even know who runs those centers, but no one is outside telling them to stop their operations.

Maybe I've missed the meetings where residents have complaints about the homes where the mentally disabled reside. Maybe there's something I didn't catch about how these disabled residents make life a living hell for their neighbors.

Let's get real! There are more complaints about homeowners (sane, healthy and financially comfortable residents) who blast their music in their backyards, double park and engage in suspicious activity. If you live near one of these homes that operates under New York State's Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD), do you have any major complaints? Have their residents harassed you, threatened your life? Are they up partying all hours of the night into the morning? I don't remember hearing anyone complain that the developmentally disabled are dealing drugs in a strange looking car that's been parked in a common driveway for nearly a week. Have you made a run to the precinct lately to file a harassment complaint about the disabled?

Another observation I've made is that many of the homes being occupied by a OPWDD facility are properties that were for sale. Someone didn't want to live here – and someone may have foreclosed on that two family home that's being converted to an assisted living facility.

The compromise is to suggest another home or location in a “better neighborhood” where they reportedly don't have as many homes for the developmentally disabled. Really? I'm no real estate agent, but from the looks of it, properties in “better neighborhoods” are probably purchased by individuals with families – and most communities west of Canarsie aren't ranking as high on the foreclosure list. Some homes, such as those in Gerritsen Beach, are often passed down from one generation to the next. Face it – if more Canarsiens stayed in their homes (or they could afford to live here) and if more homes were sold to working individuals, OPWDD and its sub-agencies wouldn't have the building space to operate here.

I read some of the public feedback from our opinion column on homes being set up for the developmentally disabled. Shockingly, despite all of the “protesting” going on, not one out of a dozen people said they were upset about this issue. Why is this? Maybe those who don't oppose these homes understand that there is security, supervision and city/state mandated rules that operators must abide by. Don't you wish some homeowers – who really make living here a living hell – could be kept under control and be supervised all the time by officials? Who's really the problem in our community? If you're going to discriminate against anyone moving in, it should be those who have potential to turn their homes into a “hotel” by renting rooms to multiple people who come and go all hours of the night. But how would we know who's a danger to our community?

OPWDD brings in organizations that legitimately state their nature of operation. Loud, obnoxious and disrespectful residents DON'T warn the public they're moving in.

So who would you rather live next to - drug dealers and party animals or the developmentally disabled? Maybe I shouldn't be shocked by the overwhelming response...

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