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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Group Home For Mentally Ill Proposed Near Moravian College

If you live on Fairview or Monocacy Street, you might have received a recent notice that Resources for Human Development (RHD) was seeking zoning relief at 943 Monocacy Street. Jennifer and John Parri, who do live in that neighborhood, thought it had something to do with Human Resources at nearby Moravian College. Curious, they attended Bethlehem's July 28 Zoning Hearing Board. They were shocked to learn this had nothing to do with Moravian at all. It was instead an application for a group home housing eight mentally ill people, along with another four day visitors.

Program Director Aaik Van Munster told zoners that RHD's sole goal is to reintegrate people into the community. He did admit that most neighborhoods are initially fearful of group homes housing the mentally ill. But "[a]fter we have some milk and cookies, they understand."

When Zoner Bill Fitzpatrick asked what would actually exclude someone, Van Munster replied recent violent acts. He then added that someone convicted of child molestation "would not have a chance." But a half sentence later, he claimed it would be "extremely unlikely."

A trembling Jennifer Parri, who lives directly across the street, told Van Munster, "I'm very concerned for my children." She added that by the time RHD realizes there's a problem, "someone may be hurt."

"We'll invite you over," Van Munster replied. "They are free Americans. Safety is Number One. For us, for you, for them. We'll keep an eye on them. If there is any doubt, we'll take them off the streets."

Zoner Ken Kraft lives only two doors away from another RHD facility. He feels that experience may have biased him, and recused himself at the onset of the hearing. But when he later asked to speak, as an ordinary citizen. Instead of offering him milk and cookies, RHD Attorney Keith Cacciatore objected, and wondered why Kraft was still in the room.

Cacciatore also called a former RHD "consumer" who told zoners he was provided with lots of support "when I was fragile." He added there the neighbors were no problem. "We even shared a neighborhood cat."

Before zoners made their final decision, Jennifer Parri asked for a continuance and to reopen the record so that other neighbors could testify.

"Everyone in this neighborhood thought this was something connected with Moravian College. We had no clue this kind of facility was coming in."

Without waiting for a ruling from Chairman Gus Loupos, Solicitor Mickey Thompson denied Parri's requests on his own, claiming that reopening the record would "prejudice the Applicant."

But Bill Fitzpatrick, noting that "we don't really have a grasp" and that there is a "disconnect" in Van Munster's testimony, moved to table the matter until the ZHB meets again on August 26. Fitzpatrick's motion passed unanimously, but Thompson stressed that the record is closed.

ZHB member Glenn Taggart was absent.

During nearly four hours of hearings, zoners quickly approved a carport at 2541 Covington Avenue and a church use and parking area at 533 16th Avenue. But they denied Tom Barker's request to approve twin homes on a vacant lot at 629 13th Avenue, where only single family dwellings are permitted.

Representing Barker, Attorney Jim Holzinger argued that a strict application of zonming laws in that neighborhood is confiscatory. But Attorney Joe Piperato, representing next door neighbor Carol Wolf Smith, countered that nothing prevents Barker from building a single family dwelling. He added that Barker just bought the property in May, and has made no real attempt to market a single family home.

Neighbors told the ZHB that this vacant lot was at one time a community garden. Joyce Dawley also presented a petition signed by neighbors opposed to twin homes on that lot, but Zoners declined to accept it because those signing were unavailable for cross-examination.


Anonymous said...


I have a nephew who is a physiatric nurse. The stories he has would turn your hair white. They involve murder and brutal repeat offenses by those who are in the revolving door of America’s mental health system. Both the public at large and those who need help for and from themselves are victims of this inept and absurd system.

Scott Armstrong

Anonymous said...

The system is designed to serve, first and foremost, those like the condenscending, grant and tax dollar devouring director who would pacify the concerned with "milk and cookies".

Anonymous said...

Wasn't this legislation passed
under former President Clinton?
Its ramifications are enormous as communities across the country continue to find out.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't the man who just murdered four Northampton residents at one time treated for mental illness?

Anonymous said...

Scott Armstrong is an idiot. I worked at the RHD that used to be on Center St. in Bethlehem, but was changed back to a private home. People with mental illness by and large are threats only to themselves. They turn on themselves and many end up committing suicide. If everyone is so against rehabilitating the mentally ill or those addicted to drugs and alcohol, why don't we start investing in extermination camps like the Nazis, and just started gassing all the undesirables so we don't have to look at them?

Anonymous said...

Don't give Scott any ideas Annon 8:51

Anonymous said...

What this young couple may not realize and we don't know the answer either, under the state Seller's Disclosure Act, are they legally required to divulge the existence of this home to prospective buyers.
Perhaps an attorney will share some comments.

Anonymous said...

How far is this house from the college?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Two or three blocks.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 8:51, I am not against this and the Fair Housing Act makes it pretty much impossible to get in the way of housing for the mentally ill, but U so have 2 problems.

1) I believe neighbors were deceived by RHD's name (unintentionally) into believein it was related to MC.

2) The witness was very equivocal and a little condescending.

Anonymous said...

My brother is a paranoid schizophrenic. He was a wonderful, brilliant, loving, productive guy until being stricken with a classic onset in his mid-20s. My eyes well as I type this. Most are perfectly harmless. A rare few can be murderously violent without warning. These residents will likely still be on their meds, reducing the likelihood of doing harm to others. Still, the possibility isn't eliminated. It can't be.

My brother's story is heartbreaking and I have tremendous sympathy for individuals and their families affected by mental illness. The real shame is not the legitimate fear of neighbors. It is that society has not progressed in the treatment of mental illness in the last 100 years. Hell, we've gone back to electro-shock.

With so much money dedicated to treating preventable diseases (e.g. lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease, AIDS), it's sad that treatment of a vicious, random torture that affects so many is relatively ignored.

The neighbors aren't bad people. But the poor souls who suffer from mental illness need more and better help than they're getting.

Anonymous said...

Resources for Human Development
Can it be a deliberate choice for such an organization to use a name that to many indicates some type of library or clearing house.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Yes, I do not think the public really had adequate notice as a result of this name, which may very well be an intentionally misleading name. Is this the way RHD wants to start with the neighborhood?

I also don't understand why Mickey Thompson is making these rulings. He is not a ZHB member. He is not the chair, who should make these rulings. He is their attorney. He takes a very active role in meetings. Perhaps he must do this bc of all the legal questions involved and, frankly, he keeps things going.

Anonymous said...

Mr. O'Hare: Nice work candidly covering the ZHB, a function local newspapers don't really do anymore. These ZHB cases are interesting. I sympathize a bit with RHD, as residents jump the gun on child safety issues without showing much compassion for fellow citizens in need of special housing accomodations. That said, the employees who work at group homes are usually more trouble than the residents. Nice report, I enjoyed it.

C said...

Where are these people supposed to go? They are a protected class of citizens under the Constitution, and you simply can't oppose this use. I understand the fears of the folks proximal to this however. Mental illness is still poorly understood in this country.

Anonymous said...

I find it hard to determine the buildings / institutions apart.

Capri said...

This isn't really meant in an accusatory way, but I think its a statement about people's awareness of mental health issues that a major organization in the mental health treatment field is so unknown that their name is cause for confusion. This is a 40 year old nonprofit that operates in more than one state. Although I can understand how the name could be a bit confusing, "Human Resources" would have been more commonly referred to as 'personnel management' in 1970 when RHD was incorporated.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:51,

Those whose argument begins with insult discredit all the reason that follows. Am I an “idiot” because my nephew is a physiatric nurse? Or am I an “idiot” because I passed on his frustrations on this blog. Perhaps I am an “idiot” because on this thread and others I have expressed concern for the mentally ill and the shameful way they “cared for” by the government.

Scott Armstrong

peterkc said...

In my opinion, the solicitor is out of order to offer anything but a legal opinion IF requested by the chair. Besides, wouldn't it take an action of the board to conclude testimony and close the record? Ask an attorney! If the solicitor's action was improper, the record is still open.

The de-institutionalization process actually started over 30 years ago. If it had been coupled with adequate support and assisted-living services, it would have been a huge success story; as it is, there have been many problems. Many of our homeless and prison inmates are there because they need mental health services.

RHD is a large multi-state organization, but you'd have to check on their existing facilities to see if they do a good job. Neighbors are entitled to be heard by the zoning board, but the real issue is that people with mental health issues have to live somewhere.


Anonymous said...

Someone should ask my neighbors on Wagner Drive in Bethlehem Township about RHD and its so called compassion. They had a kid in that home for years and cops were always being called to subdue him because the staff could not.

Anonymous said...

Didn't one of the minimum wage employees have sex with a 16 year old resident in the Bethlehem Twp. home?

I'm not sure but I believe the guy was convicted last year for having sex with a minor while she was a patient at the Center.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, companies like this have taken over the role traditionally reserved for government. These companies are long on profit and short on care. They hire minimum wage non-trained staff. The staff come and go on a constant basis. I would never want a loved one at one of these "warehouses".

They bully their way into a neighborhood promising the world. What is left is understaffed facilities, poor care for fragile people and frightened neighbors.

Don't be angry at the neighbors. Be angry at the County and companies like RHD that are based on making big bucks for the Executives paying minimum wage to their staff and gaining properties paid for by taxpayers that appreciate in value and are owned by and for CSG.

One of the greatest schemes going. To Mental Health Advocates it is not "uninformed" neighbors. It is "callous" and "manipulating" County and State bureaucrats and business men that are being uncaring.


peterkc said...

A few minor corrections:

Yes, RHD is a business, but it is a non-profit. Top salaries as of 2007 were good but not as exorbitant as some [top officers in the $150K range, unit directors about $105K. The company had a total budget in the area of $160 million.

Based on current job postings, support staff in the units seem to be in the $10-$11 range -- not minimum wage, but definitely minimal and less than a living wage.

Online comments suggest that the top execs receive pay raises even as units are short-staffed, but that could also be sour grapes talking.

An Anonymous post mentioned the Bethlehem Township unit having to call the police to help restrain a teen. [But that may be better than the approach KidsPeace seems to use, where a bunch of low-wage staff have tried to do it themselves -- one reason there have been quite a few deaths of patients at KidsPeace.]

Remember, people who are sick need treatment and care. The reason mental-health was de-institutionalized was that big organizations tend to lose track of the individual; even if it's operating relatively small group homes, a huge institution like RHD may not be the best setting for people who need mental health care or emotional support.

Anonymous said...

Blame your legislators for closing hospitals and pushing community-based mental health treatment on the communities without providing enough money to do so properly. Do not blame the non-profits who are taking care of ill, low-income people the best they can on a shoestring.

By the way ... Resources for Human Development is a 40-year-old NON-PROFIT human services agency. If there are big bucks there, I'm the king of England.

Bernie O'Hare said...

There is no queswtion that we have an obligation to care for those unable to do it for themselves. And from what I'm told, most people would not even notice a group home in their neighborhood. But there are problem group homes, and one of them is a group home run by RHD in Bethlehem.

I question the quality of the caregivers and am working up an essay on the dark side of these group homes.

Karen D said...

My family and I live just a short walk away from a group home for mentally ill people, and I would never have known this had I not stopped to chat with one of the residents when I was walking my dog.
In college, the house next door to mine was a group home for the mentally ill, the quietest house on a street filled with college kids.
People are always afraid of "others," where statistically all of us are most likely to be abused, raped, or killed by people we know: our husbands, parents, trusted adults, etc.
The worst neighbors I ever had were respected members of our Bethlehem community. The husband had a nasty drinking habit and would regularly take his verbal tirades outside, get in his truck at 3 a.m., gun his engines, peel wheels, and drive out into the streets of Bethlehem totally drunk. He would have been less scary and less of a nuisance in a group home.

JohnHerald said...

Relatively new to the blogosphere, I made it a point to tune in for what turned out to be a candid exchange between Bernie, Jon, Joe and Alan. My interest was in learning more about the motivations and methods of folks like Bernie and Jon, who are adding new dimensions to both the flow of information and the dialogue that's so crucial to our democracy. I wasn't disappointed. In fact, it was great to hear the actual voices behind the words. At any rate, if you missed it, you may want to contact WDIY about the possibility of a re-broadcast.

Anonymous said...

Why does the public notice for the continued hearing on this state that the proposed use is a business office and meeting area?
The advertisement seems very misleading.