The residents of Indian Village are fighting mad about the potential location of a group home for mentally ill youth in southwest Louisiana’s Allen parish.
“We don’t have a problem helping people,” said 57-year-old resident Beth Courville. “We are a Christian community, a hard-working community.”
“Our fear is fear itself. We don’t know what’s going to be in our backyard,” said Courville. “We would like to stop this nightmare from happening to another community.”
State Rep. Dorothy Sue Hill has taken Indian Village’s plight to the Legislature, where other legislators are becoming aware of what could happen in their community.
The Louisiana House is scheduled Tuesday to take up Hill’s legislation ,which would require parish governing authority approval of such group homes in Vernon, Allen and Beauregard parishes.
The state Department of Health and Hospitals is opposing the measure, fearful of its ramifications on state mental health needs.
Therapeutic residential group homes are part of a continuum of care options state officials say they need for the treatment of the mentally ill.
So far, there are only two therapeutic group homes for those with mentally illnesses in the state — one in Baker and another on Carolyn Sue Drive in Baton Rouge. Both have been operating a year or so.
“We want to get these group homes across the state,” DHH Secretary Kathy Kliebert said. “The more roadblocks we throw up, the harder it will be to get providers.”
Restrictions are discriminatory and unconstitutional, Kliebert said, under the Americans with Disabilities and Fair Housing Acts.
“We have been fighting this for 40 years or more about people with disabilities being allowed to live in neighborhoods, communities,” Kliebert said.
She said she feared the Hill legislation would snowball with other parishes added and past group home battles reignited. “We have worked so hard to deinstitutionalize people.”
Hill’s House Bill 1155 cleared the House Health and Welfare Committee on a 10-6 vote last week with legislators concerned that the group homes could crop up anywhere without notice.
One wanted to know the authority DHH was using to expand mental health services using the group home model.
“I see a problem in an area that doesn’t want them,” state Rep. Bernard LeBas, D-Ville Platte, said.
The group home talked about for Indian Village is designed for youth aged 12 to 21 who have been assessed by mental health professionals to require the residential treatment and not be a risk to the community.
The homes give the youth access to life activities, such as school and work, while they are living in a home with two full-time staffers with mental health backgrounds. In Indian Village, residents are concerned about the backgrounds of the youth who would live in their community, whether they have been violent in the past or been child molesters.
“The young children will be riding the school bus with these young people,” said Hill, D-Dry Creek. “Are these people molesters of young children? We don’t know.”
Courville questioned the suitability of the location citing lack of psychiatric and psychological services for group home residents as well as law enforcement in the rural community. She brought a petition signed by some 600 residents.
Kliebert said a lot of the problem involves people not understanding what the homes are about.
“They are not a danger to their property values and their families and their children,” said Kliebert. “These homes are well-supervised and staffed.”
The majority of the youth are referrals from the state Department of Children and Family Services. “These are not kids from criminal backgrounds. They are not a danger,” she said.
Kliebert said the youth have better outcomes if they live in a residential setting rather than an institution. “These are children who have challenges.”
She said the therapeutic group home is a new model of care included in the administration’s Behavioral Health Partnership, coordinated by Magellan Health Services.
“We continue to fight a battle that we believes does not reflect our true Louisiana values. This just reflects the thoughts of a few people who do not have a good understanding of what these homes are,” she said.