Tuesday night’s Community Board 15 meeting exploded into controversy over a proposal to bring a group home for mentally disabled persons to 2055 East 21st Street. Residents brought a number of concerns to the table, ranging from sensible, legitimate arguments to down-right bigotry. But underneath their callous, insensitive ideas of the mentally disabled, their concerns hinted at an issue in the area that, unfortunately, was dismissed due to their offensiveness.
The group home will be owned and operated by Hasc Center. The one-family detached will house four “borderline” mentally disabled people, as well as 24/7 supervision from one or two counselors. According to Dr. Chaim Wakslak from the Hasc Center, the individuals have been “vetted carefully by the agency, [and] come from upstanding families.” Wakslak drew jeers from the crowd and shattered his credibility, though, by later adding, “If I were to make a comparison, it would be like four friends renting a house together in the Hamptons.”
Still, Wakslak was making some of the saner comments of the night. As GerritsenBeach.net has already noted, some downright ludicrous things were expressed:
I’ve never heard such ignorant and bigoted statements from a crowd ever before. One guy said children are calling it an insane asylum, others wanted background checks run on the Hasc clients, another said they had super human strength, another said they couldn’t control their sexual desires and would be sexual deviants. Then at one point a CB 15 board member heard members of that community say something to the effect of “its going to be torched anyway“. Another board member was so disgusted with the crowd that he had to leave the audience and be calmed down by a friend.
(For the record, the board member who walked out was Ira Teper.)
One resident of the block, Sharon Benderly, plainly stated that these people may have an “inability to control their sexual desire. Whether this is right or wrong, this is how we feel. We can’t help it. This is how the community feels.” She added, “They will be shunned and looked down on. They will be vehemently opposed.”
There was a lot of this shmaltz at the meeting; people acknowledging what they were saying was wrong and insensitive, but simultaneously defending it as “how they feel,” as if that somehow makes it acceptable grounds for objection.
As a matter of fact, the only acceptable ground for objection to the “establishment of a residence at the site … [is if it would] result in such a concentration of residential facilities that the name and character of the neighborhood would be substantially altered.” Chairperson Scavo, board members and members of the community went ahead and referred to this as “saturation.”
While there were many – MANY – terrible arguments against the Hasc home at the meeting, there was still one good point that some members of the community were attempting to make: There are already similar homes and institutions in the area, so what counts as saturation?
Two residents of 21st street pointed out that within a five mile radius, 38 such homes existed. Within one mile, there are five homes. They also offered a letter from State Senator Carl Kruger stating that there was a school on the block that had registered as something else, and thus was not in the database.
Scavo had done homework, too, and revealed that she was told by the NYS Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities that saturation applies to homes within 200-400 feet. She had a list from the agency, which is tasked with licensing such residential homes, and did not find sufficient evidence of “saturation.” But she was not able to say how many homes within that area defined “saturation.”
The board went to a vote, and in the end, the proposal passed with 36 yes, 3 abstains and 3 abstains with cause.
I do not say unfortunately because I am against the home, but rather because the residents offered alternative information gathered from places other than Scavo’s source which indicated more homes and institutions than previously thought – and this included a letter from a State Senator. I would’ve liked to see Scavo and the board members put the vote off until they were able to look into the matter further. Some residents are claiming that CB15 has the highest concentration of such homes when compared to other CBs. If this is true, it certainly merits looking into.
But I can’t blame Scavo and the board for this one. The assholes on E. 21st street (which is NOT to say all of the residents), really bear the blame. They were loud and disruptive, and most importantly, crude, offensive and callous. Most of their arguments were twisted and irrational, with heavy-handed platitudes about kids and synagogues and schools in the area. These foolish arguments more than any undermined any meaningful effort to look at the effects and concentration of homes in the area.
Instead of a proper evaluation of the study, and full consideration of both the rights of the disabled and the rights of the community, these residents caused one member of the board to say that he was “truly embarassed of the community I represent.”
Good going, guys.