North Carolina announces new disability housing plan

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In the latest twist in a long running battle over North Carolina’s housing services for people with mental illnesses, the state Department of Health and Human Services announced July 26 a new eight-year plan to transfer an estimated 3,000 people from its adult care homes to more integrated settings.

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The announcement came amid an apparent breakdown in talks between the state and the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Department. In July 2010, Disability Rights North Carolina sued the state, charging that the state is violating the Americans with Disabilities by segregating thousands of people with mental illnesses in adult care homes, while failing to provide services to help those individuals live in less restrictive environments. In July 2011, the DOJ sent a letter to the state, which found similar ADA violations.

“Adult care homes are institutional settings that segregate residents from the community and impede residents’ interactions with people who do not have disabilities,” the Justice Department stated in the letter. “Most people with mental illness receiving services in adult care homes could be served in more integrated settings, but are relegated indefinitely and unnecessarily to adults care homes.”

The state’s plan would cost an estimated $67 million and would give people with mental illnesses the option of relocating to new living facilities, according to an article in the Raleigh News and Observer.

Disability Rights North Carolina remains concerned that the state will not follow through with the plan without the pressure of a court-approved legal settlement.

“We are disappointed that the State was unable to come to an agreement to resolve our complaint with USDOJ,” said Vicki Smith, executive director of Disability Rights North Carolina, in a news release. “It is reassuring to hear the State acknowledge the enormity of the unmet needs of people with mental illness and their plan to increase supported housing, supported employment and other services.

“However, the plan outlined by the State lacks a binding agreement which once and for all commits the state to fulfill the promises we’ve heard today. The time for unenforceable promises has passed.”

Disability Rights North Carolina is part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and a member of the National Disability Rights Network.