Group homes for teens closing

April 3, 2009
By

JOHN RUCH

Leader freed to do state policy advocacy

All 10 of the local group homes for troubled teens operated by Community Caring—the Jamaica Plain non-profit program that pioneered the group-home model 45 years ago—will be closed forever by June.

Gerry Wright, president of Community Caring and a JP resident, blamed budget cuts and reorganization of the community-based care system that, he said, is slashing teen homes citywide.

The state Department of Children and Families (DCF) funds and refers youths in state custody to group homes. DCF spokesperson Alison Goodwin said the agency does not comment on specific service provider con-tracts. She said DCF does not seek to limit youth referrals as a
cost-savings measure, as Wright alleges.

In a written statement to the Gazette, Wright called it a “sad and tragic situation where we are being forced to close residential programs for adolescents who have been homeless.”

Where will the teens go? “That’s the question,” Wright said in a Gazette interview, citing foster homes, mental health hospitals and homelessness as the likely options. “These [may be] kids who need much more care than their family or a substitute family can provide, and what happens is, they end up out on the street.”

“We will work with the provider to ensure there is continuation of services,” Goodwin said.

While he has accepted the end of his own group homes, Wright said, he plans to fight for a streamlining of the state’s system. He said $17 million could be freed up for direct care by eliminating administrative offices that duplicate each other.

“It’s not Gerry fighting for bread on the table. It’s fighting for an ideological principle,” he said, ex-plaining that, without his own program involved, his funding arguments may have more moral force.

The shutdown comes shortly after Community Caring drew high honors, including a state Senate resolution praising Wright as the “state’s father of community-based care,” and the awarding of the prestigious Robert F. Kennedy Embracing the Legacy Award to Wright.

Seven of the houses were rental properties. Of the three that Community Caring owns, one will be sold, Wright said. The others—including the original, pioneering home at 36 Perkins St.—may become group homes for other agencies, or the site of new programs Wright may invent, he said.

Various other programs Wright operates under the Community Caring umbrella will remain active, he said, adding that he will be seeking new funding sources for them. The highest-profile examples are the Jamaica Pond Project, an advocacy group for Jamaica Pond Park, and the Jamaica Plain Coaltion: Tree of Life/Arbol de Vida, a coalition of residents and human services providers.

Six of Community Caring’s homes already shut down in stages between November 2008 and last month. They in-clude: 14 Custer St.; 57 and 126 Day St.; 89 Forest Hills St.; 6 Pond St.; and 21 Seaverns Ave.

The remaining homes that will close by June include: 36 Perkins; 63
Robeson St.; 39 St. John St.; and 16 St. Peter St.

The now-vacant 57 Day property will be sold, while Community Caring will hold on to 36 Perkins and 39 St. John, Wright said. There is no financial pressure to sell those two properties, he said.

“I’ve positioned the corporation so I won’t be out on the street,” he said.

“Actually, there are some people who would be interested in continuing a group home” at those sites, Wright said. But he mentioned other possible new program ideas of his own, such as some type of residential site for area graduate students doing community-based work. “I want to continue to create [programs],” he said.

Wright pioneered the teen group home model in 1964 at 36 Perkins, which became a model program for the rest of the state and other cities nationwide. Originally incorporated as DARE, Inc., Wright’s group-home effort in the 1980s became Community Caring, a program of the non-profit organization Community Care Services.

The end of Community Caring’s home is coming in part because of deliberate state efforts to save money by lowering group home capacity, Wright said.

“In the spring of 2008, DCF notified most Boston providers contracting to run group homes that they needed to lower the capacity,” he said in a written statement. “In the fall of 2008, even programs which were not cut back by DCF were receiving too few referrals to stay open.”

“The line of demarcation has been drawn in the sand where [DCF is] counting [financially] on the fact we’ll be closing in June,” Wright said.

Wright also criticized a “redundant, unfair, expensive” administrative system that, he said, favors certain service providers as “lead agencies.” Calling for administrative reform before any service cuts are made, Wright vowed to battle this system.

Why not battle to save his own group homes as well? Wright noted that he is now 74 years old and was not looking forward to what he called character “assassination” he suffered after calling for administrative re-forms in prior decades.

“For me, the end is here for my group home work,” he said.

Policy issues aside, Wright said he remains focused on the youths they affect. In a chance meeting on Cen-tre Street last month, Wright introduced this reporter to one of the teenagers who lives in a Community Caring home. Wright described him as a star pupil who was undergoing rapid self-improvement. The young man had to leave quickly, hopping on a bus to make sure he got to a class on time.

Come summer, Wright noted, that young man’s home will be gone and his future less clear.