Group home raises questions

May 30, 2008
By

JOHN RUCH

JAMAICA HILLS—A new group home for clients of the state Department of Mental Retardation at 12 Parkside Drive took neighbors by surprise when it opened late last year. Concern increased when staff members reportedly had to chase one of the home’s residents down the street.

Now Vinfen Corporation, the group home’s operator, is meeting with the community and holding an open house, among other outreach efforts.

“People saw these folks move in [and] didn’t know what was going on,” said state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez, who organized the community meetings. “They wanted to know who’s there, what’s going on, who to talk to if there are any issues.”

“What bothered me personally is we hadn’t been notified at all that they were going in there until they were up and running,” said Jamaica Hills Association (JHA) President John Lovett.

Neighbors also had concerns after the home opened, Lovett said. “They had noticed employees chasing one of the [group home] residents…down the street,” he said, adding that the circumstances of that incident were unclear. In another case, staff members went door-to-door looking for a resident of the house, he said.

Another concern was employees parking in a way that blocked nearby driveways, Lovett said.

Sánchez—who recently moved to Moss Hill himself—said the neighbors’ overall concerns went down when they were told what sort of clients are housed in the group home.

“The folks there are mentally retarded. They don’t have mental health issues,” Sánchez said.

A resident of a Vinfen group home on Gartland Street was stabbed to death in the house two weeks ago. The victim’s roommate has been charged with murder in the case. That group home apparently houses clients of the state Department of Mental Health.

Asked if that killing has raised new concerns about the Parkside Drive home, Sánchez said no.

Vinfen spokesperson Shawn Middleton did not have immediate comment.

The JHA has discussed the home, saying in its May newsletter, “Although we acknowledge the work organizations like Vinfen do to improve the well-being of our new neighbors, running a business in a residential community does have an impact.”

The surprise opening of group homes has been a regular issue around Jamaica Plain. The organizations that operate them typically cite confidentially rules and fair housing laws as explanations for lack of public notice. However, they also frequently reveal many details about the homes’ operations if neighbors ask.

“I’m sure they anticipate people fighting this sort of thing wherever they go,” Lovett said of the lack of notice.

“These are people [who] deserve fair housing as well,” Sánchez said of the group home’s residents. “They have a right to live in the community just like any other person.”

He noted that several local residents work for human services
agencies and understood the value of such group homes.

The Parkside Drive home is a single-family house owned by a resident of North Hollywood, Calif., according to city assessing records. Vinfen is apparently renting it.

Four people live in the home with 24-hour supervision, according to Sánchez.

After the first community meeting in March, Vinfen pledged to respond to various management concerns, including such items as a contact person for any problems. The open house is scheduled for June 4, and a follow-up community meeting will be held June 18. [See JP Agenda.]