A sad-but-real duty of group homes

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted2/9/2012 5:00 AM

In a society that, no matter how distinct it keeps its government from its religions, prides itself on pious values of brotherhood, compassion and charity, it is always a bit discomfiting to watch the reaction when someone mentions the idea of placing a home for the developmentally disabled in one of our neighborhood.

Suddenly, brotherhood, compassion and charity seem somehow better suited for some other part of town.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

One is left to wonder just where, if not for federal laws forbidding housing discrimination against them, such folks would live at all.

So, the temptation is strong to lash out at a government like the Des Plaines City Council this week that denies an opportunity to ease the way. Until, that is, you listen to neighbors who are speaking not merely from fear and speculation but from years of experience.

An existing group home in Des Plaines petitioned the city for permission to increase the number of individuals it could house. The city said no. Sadly, it had little alternative. Even without considering special circumstances developmentally disabled clients pose, it is difficult enough to make a case for any operation serving five people in a single-family neighborhood. In Des Plaines, operators sought to increase the number to eight at a group home one nearby resident called "a disgrace to the neighborhood."

He described a facility that was poorly maintained, often appears to exceed its limit of five clients and allows its back yard to become covered in weeds and vines.

Tom Kucharski, who lives near the home, admitted that it made corrections to its appearance but only after "they were forced to do it."

With group homes under consideration or being developed throughout the suburbs, most notably recently affecting Palatine, Mount Prospect, Arlington Heights and Buffalo Grove, this is just the type of experience a town should not have to hear. It is hard enough to overcome the unfounded fears and prejudices of potential neighbors to a group home, without having to face the additional burden of a shabby experience somewhere else.

Few citizens are more dependent on the compassion of the community than the developmentally disabled. And we long for a society in which, rather than bristle with opposition and obstacles, neighborhoods open their arms with warmth and compassion to the prospect of having such individuals in their midst.

But it is a sad truth that existing facilities must go above and beyond expectations of high-quality maintenance and neighborliness if that idealistic vision is to become reality. And the day will never come if homes permit themselves to be perceived as a neighborhood nuisance or eyesore.

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