Bill Would Encourage Housing Options For Group Home Clients

The public health committee hopes to open spots in group homes for some of the more than 2,000 people on a waiting list for residential placements. (Mark Mirko / Hartford Courant)

A bill cleared a hurdle Friday that would encourage private group homes to find other housing for clients, such as an apartment with a roommate, that is less expensive and helps the clients become more independent.

In giving the bill a favorable nod and sending it along to the full legislature, the public health committee hoped to create some movement in a sluggish system: clients with intellectual disabilities who can function well in an apartment setting would be given that opportunity, and a spot would open in a group home for one of the more than 2,000 people on a waiting list for residential placements. Some people have been waiting for 20 years or more.

It costs about $90,000 to $140,000 to care for one person for one year in a private group home that contracts with the state. Putting clients in shared apartments, with assistive technology and access to visiting aides, could lower the costs by tens of thousands of dollars per person, advocates say. That would allow more people to be housed for the same budget allocation.

The Arc of Connecticut and other advocates for people with intellectual disabilities fiercely support measures like these for two reasons — they don’t require additional money and therefore are not deal-breakers, and they give clients a chance to gain more freedom.

“You serve more people, you create more options, you don’t lower quality but you do lower cost,” said Edwin ”Win” Evarts, executive director of The Arc, which helped craft the language of the bill.

He said, however, that some families and clients will resist a move out of a familiar group home for a living situation that is new and untried.

“Completely understandable,” said Evarts, whose son has an intellectual disability.

“More options means more to choose from. It will take a while, but we’re hoping the thinking on this, from those who are resistant, will change,” Evarts said.

The bill creates a pilot program, in which group homes around the state would work with advocacy groups and the Department of Developmental Services, to pursue housing alternatives. These include companion homes, where a person with an intellectual disability moves in with a couple or a family, similar to a foster-care situation, and cluster housing, where clients live in apartment complexes along with nondisabled residents.

The Arc of the Farmington Valley is now a partner in a cluster-housing development. In Meriden, the Midstate Arc is proposing to move clients into apartments, where they would receive in-home support. The group homes get state money to serve state clients and need state approval for some of these initiatives.

The developmental services agency would report to the legislature each spring and fall on the number of clients in alternative housing, the cost, the various types of settings, and the health, safety and quality of life of the clients.

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