DOJ calls out North Carolina on ADA housing violations

In response to a July 2010 complaint filed by Disability Rights North Carolina, the Department of Justice has accused the state of illegally institutionalizing people with mental disabilities in its system of adult care homes.

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“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 a July 28 letter sent to the state’s attorney general. “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.”

About 5,800 people with mental disabilities in North Carolina are congregated into 288 adult care homes. The vast majority of these individuals live in facilities with more than 50 licensed beds, in which more than 10 percent of the residents have a mental illness.

During the past eight months, the Justice Department investigated a variety of the facilities. It found that most of the residents’ lives are highly regimented, controlled by “rigid rules and practices” that severely limit their privacy and autonomy. It also found most of the residents are bored and are just “vegetating” and “smoking” because of their lack of available opportunities.

The Justice Department found that the state forces people to live in these settings, as opposed to in more community based setting as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act’s mandate requiring states to provide services to ensure people with disabilities live in the most integrated setting possible appropriate to their needs.

Though the state acknowledges the necessity of an efficient supportive housing system, its programs have an institutional bias making it more difficult to receive services for individuals who prefer to live in a supportive housing system, rather than an adult family home.

The letter recommends that the state eliminate these biases to provide a sufficient alternative to the adult family homes system and create individualized plans for each individual with mental disabilities to ensure they can be transitioned into more integrated setting.

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