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Judge orders NY to create apartments for mentally ill

A Brooklyn federal judge Monday ordered the state to develop thousands of new community-based housing units for the mentally ill to replace often-scorned "adult homes," which he said are being used to warehouse large patient populations.

U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis, who ruled last year that the state violated federal law by channeling mentally ill adults in New York City into the adult homes, said the Office of Mental Health will have to create 1,500 apartments with supportive services per year for at least three years.

Garaufis said an estimated 4,300 current residents of large adult homes will be eligible for the new housing, and the state will have to create more units to keep up with demand. The judge said a monitor will enforce compliance from the state, which had proposed only 1,000 units over five years, and castigated state officials.

"A proposal that affords a remedy to only 23 percent of those individuals whose civil rights are currently being violated is grossly inadequate," Garaufis wrote. "Although Defendants have made it abundantly clear that they disagree with the court's finding, they are not free to ignore it in crafting a remedial proposal."

About 12,000 mentally ill New Yorkers are housed in 385 for-profit adult homes across the state. The lawsuit was brought by Disability Advocates, an Albany-based advocacy group, on behalf of the residents of 28 large adult homes in New York City.

Federal law requires integration of psychiatric patients into the community mainstream. Advocates say independent living with services teaches them self-sufficiency, and the state has relied too heavily on for-profit homes that resemble mental health ghettos, exploiting the patients and treating them as helpless.

"We are very, very pleased," said Cliff Zucker, the director of Disability Advocates. "It's a very important ruling that should finally remedy a tremendous injustice that's been going on for decades, in which thousands of people with mental illness have been warehoused."

The state argued that development of scattered apartments would be too costly during a time of fiscal constraints, but Garaufis found that it would cost less.

A spokesman for Gov. David A. Paterson said the state is evaluating whether to file an appeal.

An association representing members of the adult home industry denounced the ruling, saying that it would be too costly and push housing that many mentally ill adults aren't ready for.

"The plan the judge is recommending is unreasonable and undoable," said Lisa Newcomb, director of the Empire State Association. "We would expect that the state should and would appeal this decision."

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