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Editorial: ‘Oversaturated’

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It is beginning to sound like a broken record. It doesn't matter what community board or in what corner of Queens. Every time a nonprofit organization seeks to open a group home for mentally retarded adults, someone steps up to the microphone and explains that it's not that he or she has anything against the disabled, but, gosh golly, this community is oversaturated with group homes.

The presumption is that there is some part of Queens that is exempted from the group homes while they has much more than their fair share. Meanwhile there are waiting lists of mentally challenged adults waiting for more group homes to open. We said it before and we'll keep saying it until the disabled of Queens no longer have to plead for the right to live their lives with a measure of freedom and dignity: Queens is saturated with group homes because Queens is home to thousands of men and women born with mental retardation and other disabilities.

There are, of course, some neighborhoods where the housing stock is not large enough or where the high price of housing is prohibitive. Outside of that consideration, there are group homes in virtually every community and there is need for many more.

At a meeting of Community Board 12 last week, District Manager Yvonne Reddick complained, "We are oversaturated with those homes. It may not be the same agency, but there are so many other agencies that are providing those homes." She claimed that there are already 20 such homes in CB 12.

Gary Kipling, the assistant executive director of St. Christopher-Ottilie, said his organization was seeking to purchase a building at 140-46 160th St. in Springfield Gardens. The building would be converted into an Individual Residential Alternative, where young men ages 18 to 21 could live semi-independently. The residents would be supervised 24 hours a day.

Just once we would like to be able to report that a community opened its arms and welcomed a group home for moderately retarded adults. We would like to see someone come to the microphone at a community board meeting and say, “These are our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters. How can we turn them away?”

We are weary of the equivocators who, like Reddick, say, “This community board is not against mental retardation. Somewhere in our family we have such relatives that need care. Just give each community board its fair share.”

We might find sympathy for community boards that oppose a halfway house, a methadone clinic, a drug rehab center or even a group home for juvenile delinquents. Such facilities tend to create problems. But a group home for moderately retarded adults with 24/7 supervision is a threat to no one.

We had hoped that the state legislature would rewrite the Padavan Law, which allows a community board to reject group homes if the board can show that it is already “saturated” with such facilities. The current law does not define a standard to measure “saturation.” 4But that is not about to happen any time soon.

In the interim, the Borough President Marshall should consider getting the community boards to agree on a plan to fairly distribute new group homes throughout Queens. At least this would spare the dedicated people who run these homes the humiliation of having to listen to endless speeches about saturation.

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