The Alexandria City Council is expected to vote on whether to approve the city's first permanent group home for mentally ill patients next week now that the controversial issue has been approved by the Planning Commission.
The commission voted 5 to 1 at midnight Monday to recommend approval of the home despite vehement opposition from some residents who would be the home's neighbors.
The commission's decision means that the $153,500, two-story, five-bedroom brick home at 1521 Dogwood Dr. in the city's northwest corner likely will become a supervised home for five mentally ill patients because the council has a record of approving group homes and several council members have said the home is needed.
"There is definitely a need for it," said council member Lionel R. Hope. "I don't like to prejudge an issue before a hearing, but there is no question there is a need."
Hope said the council did not "want to ram it down anybody's throat," but rather hoped neighbors would understand the city's responsibility to care for mentally ill people and that their property values would not plunge.
William Claiborn, executive director of Alexandria's Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Department, said yesterday he was optimistic about getting final approval for the home at the City Council public hearing Jan. 18.
"It's a significant step forward in an area where we have not done enough," Claiborn said about the residence. "It will meet a very significant need for a small number of people."
Five mentally ill patients, who at one time were hospitalized but are now determined to be better served by a residential setting, would be selected by city mental health officials for the five-bedroom home.
One mentally ill patient, 32-year-old Joel Rabinowitz, had to be moved 14 times last year, in part because there was nothing but temporary housing available in the city.
"We do not object to the concept, but believe the site is inappropriate," said Rosalind Bovey, president of the North Ridge Citizens' Association, a group representing 2,860 homeowners in the area where the home would be placed.
"The association understands that each neighborhood must do its share in shouldering this community responsibility," Bovey said. But she said the particular site is unacceptable because it is in a densely populated area, rather than a commercial or industrial zone.
Several other residents who attended the commission's public hearing on the home said that along with fearing falling property values, they worried about unpredictable neighbors.
But one sat through the four-hour meeting to tell the planning commissioners that he would welcome the group home.
Paramedic Philip R. Himes, who said he worked at one time with mentally ill people in Niagara Falls, N.Y., said residents have no reason to worry. "Historically, the evidence is that schizophrenics are the victims, not the perpetrators. It is they who are robbed and beaten and assaulted more than other people."
Voting for the group home were commissioners Arthur B. Word, William B. Hurd, James E. Hoban, Anne W. Montgomery and Allan L. Kamerow, with Norman V. Cockrell dissenting. Chairman T. Edward Braswell was absent.