Editorial: Need grows for suburban group homes

Drive down the streets in Naperville’s Historic District and you will see large, beautiful homes in an idyllic suburban setting. But one of those houses is a home for troubled teen girls and, as such, the local police department is called upon to deal with a host of issues: runaways, follow-up calls and missing persons the most common.

Given that the girls who live there — six at time — were placed with the state due to abuse and neglect, often with emotional and behavioral problems, the police activity is not surprising. But as a group home in a residential neighborhood, it could be a source of worry and controversy for neighbors.

That’s why the reaction from at least one of the neighbors of this particular group home, as quoted by Daily Herald staff writer Lenore Adkins, bears repeating here: “I just feel sometimes they get a bad rap because of the stereotypes at halfway houses,” said Marie Beaty of Naperville. “They’re just neighbors, like anyone else.”

How refreshing. And luckily not that unusual of a sentiment. Certainly, the controversies are more well known when neighbors organize to fight certain proposals, like a group home for homeless veterans in Winfield that eventually had to open up in Wheaton. But many more operate almost anonymously in neighborhoods throughout the suburbs.

“We want our homes to reflect the best of that neighborhood,” said Shawn Jeffers, executive director of Palatine-based Little City Foundation.

As reported by Lenore Adkins and staff writer Kimberly Pohl in their two-part series this week on group homes, five suburbs — Palatine, Arlington Heights, Elgin, Naperville and Aurora — have between 18 and 34 residential homes helping people with mental illness, developmental disabilities, behavioral issues, addiction, brain injuries. Some just don’t have a permanent home. All need the help these homes offer and even more are on waiting lists hoping to get in. Without these homes, more people are on the street or in overcrowded hospitals and nursing homes.

“People deserve to live in the community like you and I do,” said Carl La Mell, president of Arlington Heights-based Clearbrook, a Northwest Suburban institution that serves people with disabilities and operates 30 residential homes. “No one should have 150 roommates their entire life.”

Agencies like Clearbrook, Little City and the Larkin Center in Elgin do the hard work of operating these homes and dealing with issues that many families can no longer deal with on their own.

With the holidays over and the season of giving passed, it’s important for suburban residents to remember that those relying on group homes need help year-round. These local agencies exist to provide that help as long as they continue to get generous donations from the community.

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