MOUNT OLIVE TWP. – Four women with developmentally disabilites from the area will soon have a new home thanks to the parents of a young woman with Down syndrome and a statewide advocacy organization.
And while the new home is no doubt a God-send to the four women, an estimated 8,000 other people with disabilities who cannot live independently remain on a waiting list for group housing that is expected to last for another 15 years.
The newest group home in Harmony Township is under the auspices of Advancing Opportunities, formerly known as Cerebral Palsy of New Jersey, with its northern office in Budd Lake. It is the organization’s sixth group home in the region, serving 41 residents. The first home opened in Randolph in August 2002 while others have opened in Roxbury, Parsippany, Emerson and Demarest.
The latest home was named in honor of Melissa Gentle, a 37-year-old woman with Down syndrome. An open house to celebrate the completion of the home was held on Tuesday, Oct. 22.
Valerie Weber, residential coordinator at the Advancing Opportunities Budd Lake office, said the opening comes four years after Gentle’s parents first began seeking support for a new group home for their daughter.
The residents range in age from 28 to 60 and have varying degrees of disabilities, though none require constant one to one support.
The four-bedroom home is located on an acre of land overlooking the Lehigh valley. It was formerly a private home and was largely renovated as a group home, including installation of a generator in event of power outages like those that hit the area after Hurricane Sandy.
The home will be staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, providing the residents with help including preparing meals to shopping to going to recreational activities. Melissa lives at home, two of the new residents are in developmental centers in New Jersey while one lives in an institution in New York state.
“Once they get into the house it will be their home,” Weber said. “(Melissa) has been waiting four years for this. She’s very excited.”
Taylor culls the potential group home residents from the thousands of people who are signed up to live in a state-subsidized, supervised facility. She said the people on the waiting list include many who were either discharged from a state facility or cannot live at home because their elderly parents can no longer provide care or because their needs have become too intense.
Taylor said the need for group homes has increased with the state’s plan to close developmental centers in Woodbridge and Totowa that provide home for 700 people with developmental disabilities. The state plan also has generated fears in some communities where group homes are planned and where stereotypes of the developmentally disabled die slowly.
“We’re not scary or bad,” Taylor said. “We’re serving people who want a normal life.”
Weber said residents in group homes are integrated into their communities.
“They go shopping , they go to the movies,” Weber said. “We’re trying to make them part of their communities.”
Residents are free to visit their parents or former caregivers’ homes and many go home for the holidays. But the group homes become the residents’ principal homes and they can have friends and relatives visit although they cannot stay overnight. Weber said some residents hope to one day live independently with some support while others will remain in group homes their whole lives.
The list of people awaiting placement in group homes is daunting but Weber said special arrangements are made for people in crisis who cannot remain in their current homes. Despite their ranking on the waiting list, they can be temporarily placed with respite homes until permanent housing is found.
The state hopes its new initiative, the Special Needs Housing Partnership Loan Program, will help to increase the number of group homes. The program is under the auspices of the N.J. Department of Community Affairs, the N.J. Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency and the N.J. Department of Human Services, Division of Developmental Disabilities.
Its goal is to create affordable, supportive housing for people with developmental disabilities in line with the state’s overall goal of integrating people with special needs into the community. As part of the initiative, the program will help municipalities utilize the monies in municipal Affordable Housing Trust Fund accounts to create housing for people with developmental disabilities.
The program will also assist municipalities to leverage the monies in their trust fund accounts by matching a municipal commitment of funds with financing available through the state, according to a statement.
Advancing Opportunities, formerly Cerebral Palsy of New Jersey, has been providing a wide variety of disability services in New Jersey since 1950. The agency provides services, support, education and advocacy to individuals with disabilities and to their families.
Programs include advocacy, assistive technology, employment services, family support services, residential programs, and prevention education programs.
Two of the more popular family support services are the “Parents Night Out” and “Adults Night Out” programs. They provide free recreational programs, including arts and crafts, special outings and more. Parents Night Out is for anyone up to 21 years old who is registered with the N.J. Division of Developmental Disabilities. Adults Night Out is for those 21 and older who also are registered with the state.
Visit the agency online at www.advopps.org or call 888-322-1918 for more information.