NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) - 10 On Your Side took a look at why group homes are becoming more prevalent in the state of Virginia and learned the state is currently trying to place thousands of people with disabilities into community group homes.
The homes, meant for people with intellectual and physical disabilities, are moving into residential areas, and not everyone is happy about it. 10 On Your Side saw that first hand when residents in York County protested three group homes proposed for the Lackey area.
Fear is boiling in communities like the Lackey neighborhood. Residents there placed a sign on Old Williamsburg Road in protest of Colonial Behavioral Health's proposed group homes. The sign says: “Help fight the 3 mental facilities planned for this neighborhood."
Resistance against the homes only intensified when York County planning officials approved building two of the three homes. 10 On Your Side learned similar group homes are coming to neighborhoods all over Hampton Roads.
The movement is because of a 2011 judgment by the Department of Justice -- after a three-year investigation, the DOJ ruled the Commonwealth was violating two federal laws in its care of people with intellectual disabilities.
"Both of those laws say that individuals with disabilities or individuals across the board have the right to live in the less-restrictive setting and the most independent setting," said David Coe, Executive Director of Colonial Behavioral Health.
The DOJ found instead of living in home-like settings, most people with intellectual disabilities in the Commonwealth were institutionalized in training centers. In order to comply with the DOJ, the Commonwealth offered to close four of the state's five training centers and move people to community settings. The state will have to build a lot of group homes for all those people.
"There are over like 1,000 people living in training centers [in Virginia] today, and they are all going to need to find somewhere to go," said Coe. "The community compactly has got to be developed, not just in Hampton Roads, but across the state."
In addition, there are nearly 8,000 more people with intellectual and physical disabilities who are on a waiting list for community services. But, as 10 On Your Side reported in Lackey, selling the idea to residential communities near the proposed group homes is a harder journey.
When people hear the phrase "group home," they don't always think of good things. 10 On Your Side talked with health officials to pick apart the misconceptions associated with group homes.
People fear that once a group home moves nearby, their property values go down.
"There are national studies that show that is not the case," Coe said. "Experience shows across the country that that is simply not true."
There are also worries that the intellectually disabled are dangerous to neighboring children -- Coe shot that fear down too.
"If they do engage in harming someone, it is usually themselves," said Coe. "These are not violent individuals. We don't bring violent individuals into our homes."
Coe says he understands where the concerns comes from. He says when most people think of group homes they think of places like the halfway house on Winchester Avenue in Hampton -- police say 52-year-old Darryl Allen killed a man outside that home.
10 Your Side learned residents in the Winchester home were being treated for alcohol and substance abuse. Coe says halfway homes like the one in Hampton are completely different from the ones the states are building for the intellectually disabled.
"They are nowhere near comparable, "said Coe. "The only comparable thing is that the home has four walls and a yard. Outside of that, everything is different. The population is different, the level of disability is different."
Also, the state regulates group homes for the intellectually and physically disabled. Experts say there is always a caregiver inside the homes.
The Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services has a breakdown of the status of what's happening with group homes in Virginia here.
The York County Board of Supervisors will vote on the two proposed group homes in Lackey next month.
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