By COREY SAATHOFF and ALAN DOOLEY
For the Republic-Times
The proposed construction of two new Human Support Services group homes in Hecker serving four adults each with developmental disabilities has prompted concerns from residents regarding how the whole process was conducted.
These concerns were expressed in what was described as a “heated” public meeting at Hecker Village Hall last Tuesday night, during which the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department was dispatched but no formal complaints were signed.
HSS Executive Director Robert Cole said the new homes are to be located on adjacent lots in the Freedom Village subdivision. They will be built to meet handicapped accessibility standards, he said. Barring any setbacks, the homes are anticipated to be ready by this summer.
“The plan to add group homes to serve adults with developmental disabilities has been a long-term goal for HSS,” Cole said.
An informational presentation was given by Cole during the April 9 Hecker Village Board meeting, during which he discussed the need for adding group home beds to serve adults with developmental disabilities who require a greater level of support than is possible in apartment buildings.
“Our current residential program only provides apartments. We have been working with a group of local families that want this new level of supportive housing here in Monroe County,” Cole said.
The HSS head said he fielded many questions from concerned citizens during the meeting, many of which centered around the kinds of individuals that would occupy these proposed homes.
“We are not going to use these homes for adults with mental illness, felons transitioning from prison, persons in recovery from alcohol or drug abuse, or emotionally disturbed youth,” he stressed. “I explained that developmental disabilities are a life-long condition, and that many of the individuals targeted for this project have been served by our agency for many years — in one case for 39 years.”
Other residents expressed opposition to the project, Cole said, because the homes would be “in their eyes out of character with the immediate neighborhood.”
Cole replied that the federal and state governments have adopted the vision that persons with disabilities should be fully integrated in their communities and not placed outside in secluded areas.
“It is my opinion that what many of the residents were feeling was the sense of loss of control, or of having no say in something that affects their own neighborhood,” he said. “In the case of private developers, local individuals can usually have the right to participate in the decision before a change is made, such as with a zoning meeting for a gas station if the land is not zoned properly. Contrastingly, for changes desired by the government, the government can decide that things must change for the better and greater good whether the local individuals agree or not. Federal and state governments have decided that the law of the land should be that disabled persons have a right to be fully integrated into communities and not segregated in areas away from families.”
Some in attendance raised the issue of property values, Cole added, feeling they would decline if group homes were built.
“Certainly, I am not going to predict what will happen on this, but there are studies that show property values sometimes drop and sometimes rise after a group home is added to a neighborhood,” he said.
Cole said he plans to keep the village board informed on this project.
“We also offered to those in attendance and others that might have missed the meeting that they are welcome to come and visit our supportive apartment program or our adult day program,” Cole said.
Residents start petition
Some 40 citizens gathered Monday night to discuss concerns over plans for the group homes, and a petition to stop their construction was initiated.
During this meeting, many attendees spoke out about various elements of the plan. Several said they were unaware of the meeting conducted last week at Village Hall. Others who attended were concerned that the process was presented as a decision rather than to share plans.
“We learned that the residents will be transported to Waterloo to work for six hours a day… but what will they do in Hecker the rest of the time?” one resident asked. “We have a grocery store and a tattoo parlor. Even the bank and post office are closing.”
Concerns about impacts on property values were expressed by some, who asked if any other locations had been considered in Hecker or elsewhere in the county.
One citizen, Angel Andrews, passed around a petition calling for an immediate end to the project.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Andrews said. “I am not against helping the disabled. My son is severely disabled and he may need such services some day. But they have gone about this all wrong. We have not been part of the process. Rather, we have just been informed that it’s a done deal,” she stated.
The petition was signed by around 35 attendees of Monday’s gathering.