Hillsborough Group Home Part of Statewide Effort
Residents dubious of SERV Achievement Center's proposed group home to serve autistic residents.
If approved by the Planning Board, a Sherwood Close residence will become home to four low-functioning autistic residents some of whom are currently living in one of the state development centers slated for closing.
The home, planned by Ewing-based SERV Achievement Centers, is part of a move by the administration of Gov. Chris Christie to close the centers and move those living in them into smaller group homes, where treatment is more individualized.
According to Keith Hamilton, SERV's vice-president of community relations, about 2,700 individuals in the state centers will be placed in group homes in the coming years.
"If you divide that by four, that's how many group homes you need," Hamilton said.
The Hillsborough project encountered questioning neighbors, some of whom attended the Township Committee's Dec. 11 meeting to express their concerns about the home—sometimes echoing the concerns of residents who lived near the proposed drug rehabilitation center on Route 206 (which has been withdrawn).
The residents asked about the safety of neighbors, and the possibility of residents coming and going, but Hamilton stressed the residents, as people with a form of developmental disability and not an illness, tend not to be very mobile.
"Most people who are developmentally disabled tend to be disabled their entire lives, so we have some people with us for very long times," he told the residents at the meeting.
He stressed the residents are not mentally ill, but developmentally disabled. When asked about residents who may be bi-polar, schizophrenic or depressed, he said, "These are diseases of the mental health types—these folks would not be in our program."
Also, Township Committeeman Frank DelCore pointed out the Planning Board approval only authorizes developmentally disabled residents.
In an interview after the meeting, Hamilton said the facility will be licensed wtih the state's Department of Developmental Disabilities, so only residents with such disabilities will be permitted.
In part, the group home is aimed at helping to alleviate the growing population of autistic adults, people unable to function independently but too old for schools or other existing facilities.
Hamilton said nearly 2,000 developmentally disabled people in New Jersey are on waiting lists for care, in addition to those in the centers.
The Hillsborough home could accept residents from among the 600 autistic residents at the state centers, such as the Green Brook Regional Center, as well as from the local population of people on the waiting lists.
"We'll look for folks who live in Somerset County first," Hamiliton said.