After an emotional three-hour hearing, the Arlington County Board recently approved the opening of a group home for six adults with mental health problems.
The home, at 2027 N. Roosevelt St., will be operated by Arlington Community Residences Inc. (ACRI), a nonprofit group that operates two other group homes and five apartments in the county, serving 26 residents.
Laura M. Young, mental health coordinator for the group, said the purchase, rehabilitation and operation of the home will be funded with a grant of almost $250,000 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In addition, residents will be charged a small fee based on their income.
The seven-bedroom home will have three full-time professional counselors and one part-time counselor. One counselor will provide overnight supervision and will be present whenever one of the residents is at home. All the residents are required to be involved in some daytime community activity such as school, a job or volunteer work, said Young, who added that all residents are carefully screened before being accepted for the residential program.
"We screen out people who are actively violent, suicidal or people whose problems are drug- or alcohol-related," Young said.
Residents accepted for the program, Young said, have a history of depressions. "They're withdrawn and depressed," she said, "and much more frightened of the general public than the general public should be of them."
The program, which gets about 80 requests a year for its services, provides an alternative to institutionalization for persons capable of living in a supervised environment, Young said.
Virginia law mandates that such group homes be permitted in appropriate residential neighborhoods.
The ACRI proposal resulted in nearly 100 letters to the County Board supporting the plan and almost 40 against, including a petition signed by 336 opponents. Both sides packed a County Board meeting last week, where the proposal was approved 3-2, with board members John G. Milliken, Ellen M. Bozman and Walter L. Frankland casting the deciding votes for approval.
Opponents had argued that the group home would lower property values in the area and the neighborhood would lose its single-family residential character. They also argued that group home residents might pose a safety threat to the neighborhood.
County officials, however, said experiences with the other ACRI homes have shown no effect on property values, group home residents have posed no safety threats and the outward appearance of the house made it indistinguishable from other neighborhood houses.
Young said ACRI will establish a neighborhood advisory committee to meet with neighbors to discuss their needs and concerns.