West Seneca’s residents and town supervisor have a right to be perplexed – and that’s putting it mildly – over the placement of seven convicted sex offenders with developmental disabilities in two state-run group homes on a residential street.
All seven men are from Erie and Niagara counties and range in age from 31 to 53. They were relocated from a locked and segregated section of the state’s Monroe Developmental Center near Rochester to the houses at 510 and 526 Leydecker Road on Dec. 26.
This sensitive situation was handled sloppily. Neighbors and town leaders discovered the men’s presence roughly a month later, when a Rochester reporter covering the closing of the Monroe facility asked about them.
People have long been skeptical of group homes in their communities, usually for no good reason. But this was an extraordinarily bad decision by the state to set seven convicted sex offenders with developmental disabilities in one residential neighborhood.
The state’s action has likely set back acceptance of the Olmstead decision of 1999 back. Olmstead says that unjustified segregation of persons with disabilities constitutes discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
This is not the only group home case to stir tensions.
Neighbors of a recently opened group home for people with developmental disabilities on Rapids Road in Newstead were reportedly receptive at first to the home, sponsored by People Inc. That is, until they found out that a convicted sex offender was living in the home. The town has been proactive in forming a committee to address this and other issues it had with the group home.
Group homes for people with disabilities fall under the Padavan law, and are essentially protected from “not in my backyard” discrimination. However, the state has created an extreme case by placing the seven convicted sex offenders in West Seneca.
There is a troubling shortage of beds in group homes for adults with disabilities. These are individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities that prevent them from living fully independent lives.
The group homes on Leydecker previously provided a supervised environment for nonviolent people with disabilities such as Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorder or cerebral palsy. There are more than a thousand people in Western New York waiting for space in a home. Yet, seven sex offenders won these scarce placements.
As reported in The News, the men are classified as moderate- or high-risk offenders. Four of them were convicted of sexual crimes involving children younger than 10 years old.
The state says the men would not be in the group homes if they were a threat. But at the very least the state owes West Seneca residents a lot more information, starting with what is being done to ensure their safety. How can the two small ranch-style homes be as secure as the Monroe facility? How will safety of staff be ensured?
State law may not require an explanation, but common sense does.