By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter
This is a story
about Trenton Place, the Volunteers of America (VOA) apartments built to house
Dade’s developmentally disabled population. It starts out with a happy ending.
positive. It’s a good thing. We’ve got a solution,” said Dr. Tom Ford,
executive director of Lookout Mountain Community Services, the local nonprofit
community services board that coordinates between mental health consumers, the
Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD),
and facilities such as Trenton Place. “The problem is, now we’ve got to find
people to put in there.”
It was one
sunny day last week, and Ford as well as Dave Burry, LMCS’s developmental disabilities
director, had sat down with the Sentinel in their LaFayette office to announce
glad tidings: State and federal agencies have finally sorted out the
bureaucratic snarl that has kept Trenton Place sitting half-empty since it was
completed in summer 2011.
That’s the good
news. The bad news is, now that the barriers have been torn down, Trenton Place
has found no takers still waiting outside for admittance. “We had them knocking
at the door before and we couldn’t get them in,” said Burry. “I guess now
they’re disgruntled with the whole process.”
Ford and Burry
are anxious to announce the changes in policy that now allow them to fling wide
those doors: “We’re looking for people,” said Ford.
they are looking for local developmentally disabled adults, in need of
residential services and eligible for Medicaid assistance, who are not
institutionalized in state hospitals. To those who have family members meeting
that description: “Call me,” says Burry. “I will get the referral immediately
to my intake person and she will go out and make first contact with the family,
and she’ll process the application and submit it and help the family with the
number at Lookout Mountain Community Services is (706) 638-5591, and Burry also
furnished his cell phone number: (423) 503-6853.
He and Ford
explained that the problem is not so much that there aren’t any takers for the
vacant apartments at Trenton Place. Those are, in fact, legion: About 3,500
qualified DD individuals are on the waiting list for housing services
statewide. But right now, at least, Ford and Burry have found none of those
consumers in Dade.
were basically built for this area, Dade County being a primary area because
there was a strong advocacy group over there,” said Ford. “We have a number of
individuals from Dade who are in our services, but they may not need
residential care right now.”
His agency will
give priority to Dade residents, said Ford, and after that to those from
Walker, Catoosa and Chattooga, because those are the counties LMCS serves. But
if no interested parties turn up locally, the agency will have no choice but to
tenant the seven vacant apartments with applicants from further afield. “We
don’t want them just sitting there,” said Ford.
“Nobody wants them empty.”
impasse at Trenton Place was discussed – and deplored – at the last meeting of
the Dade County Commission on March 7. The Sentinel had first described it in
articles beginning almost exactly a year ago, on March 14, 2012.
At that point,
a grassroots effort to help an eminently eligible local woman move into Trenton
Place had snowballed into a coalition of powerful advocates as family recruited
business and religious figures, these recruited county officials, and those in
turn enlisted state leaders. But this snowball of advocacy dead-ended with a
thud against an immobile wall of bureaucracy.
“It’s not like
moving a mountain,” said Dade County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley at the time.
“This has been like moving a mountain with about 10 freight trains on top of
In 2005, at the
behest of Dade citizens who had worked toward it for some years before, Lookout
Mountain Community Services and VOA, a national nonprofit organization that
provides programs for the DD population, among other targeted groups, began
their coordination to build Trenton Place through a grant they obtained from
the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
contained 12 apartments plus a common area and an office staffed by VOA 24/7.
The idea was to allow residents to live as independently as possible, but with
such support as they might need for day-to-day life, including help with
shopping and cooking as well as transportation to day programs. Residents’ families agreed Trenton Place was
a wonderful option for their loved ones.
But only five
apartments were rented, because renting the sixth would have violated what all
the players eventually began referring to as The Policy – Georgia Department of
Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability Policy 02-601, which decreed
that no more than 49 percent of units in such a facility could be devoted to
the disabled, as a matter of avoiding segregation.
The Policy had
come about in reaction to a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit against Georgia
a few years earlier. The Feds contended that Georgia was locking
developmentally disabled individuals away in state hospitals when they would
have been happier and healthier integrated into the broader community.
the lawsuit, then contended that its subsequent stricture on Trenton Place and
other such facilities not to devote more than 49 percent of their units to DD
tenants was necessary to comply with federal guidelines.
nonprofit agencies that built it, though, it was unclear whether Trenton Place
could rent to anybody but DD if it were to honor its obligations to HUD, since
the complex had been purpose-built for that population.
apartments sat empty from month to month and year to year, and a Georgia DBHDD
spokesman told the Sentinel that VOA and LMCS had only themselves to blame for
that. They had made a “poor business decision,” said the spokesman, building
segregated housing when the national trend for years had been toward incorporating
DD into the general population.
eminently eligible Dade resident who started the snowball rolling gave up and
quietly moved into a smaller apartment in the mainstream complex where she had
earlier lived with her mother. Her
family describes her as happy there and does not believe she’d consider
relocating to Trenton Place.
said LMCS’s Ford and Burry, she could: The tide has turned. Georgia DBHDD has a
new commissioner, Frank Berry, who has cleaned house from top to bottom and is
now working with the community service boards to get facilities like Trenton
Place filled. “It’s a new day at the Department,” said Burry.
office in August, Commissioner Berry has met with HUD as well as DOJ and ironed
out a compromise that is not official yet, but Ford has it spelled out in a
letter forwarded to him by U.S. Representative Tom Graves, whose help in the
matter he had solicited earlier.
HUD, said Ford,
will still not allow anyone but DD individuals to rent at Trenton Place, since
that is the population it was built for. DOJ, likewise, will not allow any DD
individuals who have been institutionalized in state hospitals to rent at
Ford: “It’s not as bad as it sounds.”
few of the disabled individuals awaiting services in the northwest Georgia area
have ever been institutionalized, he said. The vast majority, those who have
been living at home with family, or in the community at large, are now eligible
to apply at Trenton Place – and Ford and Burry are anxious to hear from them.
“We would love people to see from the Dade County area,” said Burry.
Executive Chairman Rumley, asked for comment on these developments, clearly had
sour memories lingering from last year. “I’ll believe it when I see it,” he
Rumley said he
had a couple of families in mind who need such services. “But I don’t like to
get people built up because I’ve had them built up before, and then they pull
the rug out from under them,” he said.
The Sentinel will
continue reporting on this issue as it unfolds.