Will There Soon Be Better Housing Conditions for the Mentally Ill?

The mentally ill will soon be able to receive better housing conditions in supportive living communities instead of nursing homes. Earlier this year, a U.S. District Court judge in Brooklyn ruled that under the Americans with Disabilities Act, mentally ill people living in adult nursing homes should be allowed to move into their own supportive living apartments. The judge ruled that New York City had violated the rights of the mentally ill under the Disabilities Act by forcing patients to stay within group homes and "thereby  failing to help deliver mental health services in appropriate settings to New York City residents with mental illness". The judge stated that only patients with severe mental illness or those dangerous to themselves or others should be kept in adult homes. He also ordered that 

Another federal judge then ordered that New York City provide and/or build at least 1,500 residental units a year "for mentally ill residents receiving services in the city, until there is sufficient capacity for all [of the city's mentally ill patients] who desire such housing, and no fewer than 4,500 units in all". He also appointed a federal monitor to oversee that his order was carried out given the "complexity of the case and the vulnerable population at issue."

At the time the case was decided, legal experts speculated that the decision may have national implications. Although the decision only affected New York, the case involved an interpretation of federal law. Mental health experts hoped that the new New York housing model would be mirrored in other large cities across the United States.

Their wish may have come true. According to the Los Angeles Times, a federal judge has now ruled that mentally ill patients living in institutes for mental illness must be offered voluntary evaluations to determine whether they are candidates for community based housing.  Those who choose not to take evaluations may remain where they are, but will still be offered the opportunity for an annual evaluation. The decision directly impacts around 4,300 Illinois residents with mental illness. They will be given the option to move from two dozen large nursing facilities to supportive community-based housing.

The medical community is split on whether these new decisions are beneficial for the mentally ill. Opponents argue that these decisions may have dangerous consequences for those people with severe mental illness. Some experts are worried that the order will be used as a means to dump hundreds of vulnerable patients on the streets where they could end up in psychiatric hospitals, in jail, or homeless. Proponents assert that the new order will allow persons with mental illness a chance to succeed on their own and give them a chance to demonstrate that the mentally ill can care for themselves without the need of nursing homes. They also assert that living conditions within adult living faciltiies for the mentally ill are abhorrent and the order with vastly improve the quality of life for mentally ill patients.

Personally, while I am happy about the new rulings, I do think that the order should be carried out carefully. I fully support cleaner, safer, and healthier living conditions for the mentally ill. I think that it could be extremely beneficial for those with mental illness to be reintegrated into normal living conditions. However, I hope that those patients with severe illness that do need a high degree of care are not adversely affected by this ruling, and that any integrated living facility is run in a way that will ensure that its residents receive the care they require.
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