By Brian Rubin, Esq.

The availability of community-based housing is enormously important for individuals with disabilities. Living in natural home settings and interacting with the wider community provide opportunities for personal growth, independence, and the building of self-esteem.

For more than 20 years, I have served on the board of directors of Clearbrook, a social service agency that supports more than 30 group homes throughout northern Illinois, each of which serves eight or fewer individuals, most serving fewer than six.

When you begin the process of opening a new home, there are invariably apprehensive neighbors. We invite them to discuss safety, traffic, property values, and other concerns they may have. We show a video that features interviews with others, like themselves, who were initially nervous about potential changes that a group home could bring. They talk about how their preconceptions dissipated as they built friendships with their new neighbors – shared barbecues, holiday parties, daily chats. And they explain how much it means to them that their children are growing up alongside people with disabilities so that stereotypes can be squelched.

In my state of Illinois, there are currently more than 22,000 people waiting for openings in our limited number of community-based homes. That situation is mirrored throughout the nation. In Illinois, a bias towards institutionalization persists, despite its social and economic disadvantages. It costs approximately $55,000 per person annually to provide group home services in contrast to in excess of $165,000 per year in state-run institutions.

Despite the savings that could be realized by focusing on community-based living, the current economic climate is making matters worse. I’ve seen smaller group home provider agencies forced to close due to recent changes in Medicaid reimbursement policies. Further, proposed Medicaid cuts at both the state and federal levels are likely to “shut out” thousands seeking to build self-directed lives in their communities.