AARP joined 19 other national organizations asking to compel the State of New York to move the residents of adult homes who seek greater independence and are appropriate for supported housing programs into smaller, more integrated settings where their individual needs can be more appropriately met.
Both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the federal Rehabilitation Act require states to provide services to individuals with disabilities in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs. In 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Olmstead v. L.C. that this meant that state agencies are obligated to provide services in the most integrated setting for those clients who were able to and wanted to live in more independent settings, utilizing tools that included Medicaid waivers for home- and community-based care.
Disability Advocates Inc. (DAI), the protection and advocacy program for New York state, brought a case on behalf of people with mental illnesses who are living in or at risk of entering adult homes in New York, but who do not want to be institutionalized. Following a five-week trial, a federal district court issued a permanent injunction ordering the State to make available supported housing and community-based services for these adults. The State appealed.
AARP’s friend of the court brief noted that the lower court found that all the people represented by DAI qualified for supported housing, were capable of living in supported housing and wanted to live in supported housing. The brief urges the appeals court to uphold the lower court’s ruling and order the state to provide supportive housing services that will enable the de-institutionalization of these individuals.
Studies show that supported housing promotes long-term residential stability, streamlines and coordinates service delivery, and saves government agencies money. It also promotes an individual’s well-being. In the words of one individual in supported housing, “It’s being able to actually live like a human being again.” In the words of another, “It helped me gain self-confidence again and feel like a human, not a disabled reject.”
Numerous federal agencies — including the Surgeon General, the National Counsel on Disability, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration — have recognized the benefits of supported housing. New York was one of the first states to implement supported housing programs for people with mental illnesses, has recognized supported housing as a “best practice” and even in this litigation admitted that supported housing is considered the preferred community housing model for many persons with mental illness. Yet despite its words, and despite acknowledging that most of the individuals represented by DAI would prefer supportive housing, the State has done very little to expand the benefits of supported housing to adult-home residents of mental illness.
Ruling strictly on procedural grounds, the appeals court dismissed the case, finding that DAI did not have the standing to sue on behalf of those seeking to remain in their homes. The court made it clear that if reformulated, the lawsuit might stand, but as it was filed the court found procedural defects and dismissed the case.