By Barb DeLong

The Buffalo News recently reported on “A Heartbreaking Housing Crisis” affecting the developmentally disabled population in New York. “Heartbreaking” doesn’t begin to describe the frustrations of the thousands of individuals (and their families) who are desperately waiting for placement in appropriate group homes.

The Developmental Disabilities Association of Western New York strongly believes that the needs of individuals with disabilities must be respected and state policy ought to support a wide range of choices for housing. The association is supportive of the Office of Persons with Developmental Disabilities’ vision of a continuum of housing opportunities to ensure that there is a range of residential options available, based upon individual needs and abilities; one size clearly does not fit all.

In particular, the association believes all people deserve to live in quality, affordable and accessible housing with the services and supports necessary to ensure that individuals with disabilities live a full and enriching life with opportunities to interact with the community at large.

The nationally acclaimed New York State-Creating Alternatives in Residential Environments and Services initiative (NYS-CARES) has, in the past, provided residential opportunities for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities who have sought services from the Office of Persons with Developmental Disabilities, allowing them to live in the community.

The NYS-CARES initiative was based on a promise to develop, by the end of 2012, 7,800 new residential opportunities. Unfortunately, due to the state’s fiscal problems and the need to reform the current federal-state partnership, the promise has been broken.

The state’s tracking system estimates nearly 12,000 individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are seeking residential placements in New York. In our region alone, more than 2,300 individuals are requesting some form of residential opportunity either outside an institution or away from the confines of the home where they have been raised.

While the state is seeking to fundamentally redesign its service delivery system, new housing opportunities are generally not available, or if they are, only for those still in an institutional setting or for those at risk as a result of an emergency.

The association strongly supports the new, more inclusive housing models being discussed in the state’s comprehensive plan. However, without enhanced funding for the housing service and support for needs of individuals seeking to enter these new models, the current residential wait list will only grow. And the heartbreak will continue.

Barb DeLong is co-chairwoman of the Developmental Disabilities Association of Western New York.