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Cluster of group homes sparks community ire

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The issue of group homes has angered residents of Glen Oaks, Bellerose, Jamaica and other neighborhoods in southeast Queens who contend their communities have been inundated with an unfair concentration of these facilities.

“The siting of homes is always a concern when it happens without community knowledge,” said state Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village). “I am opposed to siting without talking to the community. The community needs to be a partner.”

In a letter to Thomas Maul, commissioner of the state Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, Clark expressed her concern about the saturation of group homes in Community Board 12 and 13 neighborhoods stretching from Glens Oaks to South Jamaica and asked him to investigate.

She said she thought since there are many large houses in CB 12 and CB 13, organizations setting up group homes look there instead of at other neighborhoods around the borough.

“It is no good for the group home or the community to have an oversaturation,” Clark said. “I am not opposed to group homes, but too much of anything is too much.”

There had been a moratorium on group homes in Community Board 13, said Richard Hellenbrecht, the board’s chairman. Many residents living in the area covered by Board 13 believe their communities — Glen Oaks, Queens Village, Bellerose, Floral Park. Springfield Gardens, Laurelton and Cambria Heights — have a heavy concentration of facilities, according to Hellenbrecht.

He said there are about 49 facilities in the area.

The CB 13 chairman said now the board thoroughly scans every application, and each receives a fair review. Each application has “its merits,” he said, but the board looks at the neighborhood, the experience of the service provider, the type of clientele and how the home will fit into the community.

Under the state’s so-called mental hygiene law, the “strongest point to stop development of group homes is saturation,” he said, “but the problem is there is no definition of saturation.”

Hellenbrecht said that over the years some of the group homes have been better than others. There are homes that are maintained and “blend into the community,” whereas others fall into disrepair.

The funding for most group homes comes from Gov. George Pataki’s initiative, NYS-Cares, which was started in 1998 with the goal of providing about 5,000 beds for developmentally disabled New Yorkers over five years.

NYS-Cares wants to eliminate the community waiting list for residential placements throughout the state. NYS-Cares has already placed more than 1,600 developmentally disabled individuals into residential homes around the state.

“We are being oversaturated,” said Yvonne Reddick, district manager of Community Board 12. “It is not just these homes, but all of the others as well.”

She said there is a proliferation of shelters, group homes and substance abuse programs in the area. CB 12 covers Jamaica, South Jamaica and parts of Springfield Gardens. She said there are more than 50 known facilities.

“We are being inundated with request for homes,” she said. “We have nothing against these homes, but why not give each community board its fair share? It seems we are the dumping ground — CB 12 and CB 13.”

Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

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