light a candle for the missing

As 2018 draws to a close, light a candle for the missing. I have lit two bay candles.

One candle is lit for Geoff Partridge of Villanova.

One candle is lit for Anna Maciejewska Gould of Malvern.

They have people who love them and the families deserve the answers they seek. My wish as I lit the candles are for the missing to find their way home.

I know neither of these missing people personally, but this could happen to any family.

Here’s hoping the new year brings answers and the missing do indeed find their way home.

Thanks for stopping by.

living and co-existing with group homes

DSC_3600This post represents uncharted waters.  I am writing about it because in part I don’t understand the rights involved.  I get the basics and that is about it.

What am I talking about?  Group houses.  Group houses of developmentaly disadvantaged adults and even kids.

These group houses are all over our communities.  I have one in my neighborhood, friends have one in their neighborhood in Gladwyne in Lower Merion Township, friends have one in their West Chester neighborhood, and other friends have one in their Rosemont neighborhood in Radnor Township. These homes are in many, many places in Montgomery, Chester, and Delware counties.

These community homes are owned by companies and institutions that specialize in the needs of the special needs, and in other cases the homes are owned by other people who rent to these companies and institutions for profit.

I have no problem having homes like this in our communities.  They are allowed by law and these disadvantaged people have a right to as normal a  life  as possible and a home too.

These homes are allowed in our communities and are protected under Federal laws. I am not a zoning or civil rights lawyer but I imagine along with anti-discrimination laws they cover these homes under things like the Fair Housing Act.  I found very helpful information courtesy of the Department of Justice who say (in part):

The Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful —

To utilize land use policies or actions that treat groups of persons with disabilities less favorably than groups of non-disabled persons. An example would be an ordinance prohibiting housing for persons with disabilities or a specific type of disability, such as mental illness, from locating in a particular area, while allowing other groups of unrelated individuals to live together in that area.
To take action against, or deny a permit, for a home because of the disability of individuals who live or would live there. An example would be denying a building permit for a home because it was intended to provide housing for persons with mental retardation.
To refuse to make reasonable accommodations in land use and zoning policies and procedures where such accommodations may be necessary to afford persons or groups of persons with disabilities an equal opportunity to use and enjoy housing.
What constitutes a reasonable accommodation is a case-by-case determination.
Not all requested modifications of rules or policies are reasonable. If a requested modification imposes an undue financial or administrative burden on a local government, or if a modification creates a fundamental alteration in a local government’s land use and zoning scheme, it is not a “reasonable” accommodation.
The disability discrimination provisions of the Fair Housing Act do not extend to persons who claim to be disabled solely on the basis of having been adjudicated a juvenile delinquent, having a criminal record, or being a sex offender. Furthermore, the Fair Housing Act does not protect persons who currently use illegal drugs, persons who have been convicted of the manufacture or sale of illegal drugs, or persons with or without disabilities who present a direct threat to the persons or property of others.

HUD and the Department of Justice encourage parties to group home disputes to explore all reasonable dispute resolution procedures, like mediation, as alternatives to litigation.

 

They continue and answer some basic questions with regard to fair housing and local zoning:

Q. Does the Fair Housing Act pre-empt local zoning laws?

No. “Pre-emption” is a legal term meaning that one level of government has taken over a field and left no room for government at any other level to pass laws or exercise authority in that area. The Fair Housing Act is not a land use or zoning statute; it does not pre-empt local land use and zoning laws. This is an area where state law typically gives local governments primary power. However, if that power is exercised in a specific instance in a way that is inconsistent with a federal law such as the Fair Housing Act, the federal law will control. Long before the 1988 amendments, the courts had held that the Fair Housing Act prohibited local governments from exercising their land use and zoning powers in a discriminatory way.

Q. What is a group home within the meaning of the Fair Housing Act?

The term “group home” does not have a specific legal meaning. In this statement, the term “group home” refers to housing occupied by groups of unrelated individuals with disabilities.(2) Sometimes, but not always, housing is provided by organizations that also offer various services for individuals with disabilities living in the group homes. Sometimes it is this group home operator, rather than the individuals who live in the home, that interacts with local government in seeking permits and making requests for reasonable accommodations on behalf of those individuals.

The term “group home” is also sometimes applied to any group of unrelated persons who live together in a dwelling — such as a group of students who voluntarily agree to share the rent on a house. The Act does not generally affect the ability of local governments to regulate housing of this kind, as long as they do not discriminate against the residents on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, handicap (disability) or familial status (families with minor children).

 

Q. What kinds of health and safety regulations can be imposed upon group homes?

The great majority of group homes for persons with disabilities are subject to state regulations intended to protect the health and safety of their residents. The Department of Justice and HUD believe, as do responsible group home operators, that such licensing schemes are necessary and legitimate. Neighbors who have concerns that a particular group home is being operated inappropriately should be able to bring their concerns to the attention of the responsible licensing agency.

 

 

I just chose a few things off that page, an excerpt.  This web page on the Department of Justice website has a lot of information. If you have a group home in your neighborhood, I suggest you check out this page titled “Group Homes, Local Land Use, and the Fair Housing Act.” I will also note that the evolution of disability rights in the United States is fascinating.

When doing research I also found this publication from the Minnesota State Planning Agency. It’s like a handbook to assimilating these types of homes into their communities.  Dry, but interesting. I also found a website called “The Arc” that has a lot of information.

So why am I writing about this delicate topic if I am o.k. with a group home like this being in my neighborhood? Truthfully, I have a couple of concerns about the house in my neighborhood and I wonder what the rights of my neighbors and my familiy’s are and how we can better co-exist.

Our neighborhood group home is owned by a larger company that took over a smaller company.  When the smaller company owned the home it was different. It was better maintained, longer term neighbors say.

The company that owns our home states in their literature that they:

support one to five people, depending on need and location. Most homes have 24-hour supervision, and all meet state licensing standards…homes are adapted to the needs of the individuals living there and are maintained with care.

 

Ok not to be unkind, but there I take issue – with the whole “maintained with care” of it all. Truthfully do they do more than  the bare minimum possible to the exterior and the grounds (I have no idea what it is like inside and nor would I have reason to be on the property or in the house)?

For example, they have done very little clean up of any storm debris from February’s ice storm. (And let’s get real everyone has started by now because there is so much to do.)

And around the time of the ice storm and beyond, I had to contact one of the local offices of this company to let them know they had fir trees and such leaning on electrical wires.  Very pleasant people to deal with. The 24 hour staff had never to my knowledge notified them so they could tell PECO. We had already gone a week without power, and I thought if I did not like it very much, how hard would more of that be for developmentally challenged adults?

Group homes in the broad aspect are like rental homes, right?  Some rental houses have landlords who are more house proud than others.  I don’t expect full flowering gardens, but it would be nice if they cleaned up more.  I would think it would be nicer for the residents too.

These houses have periods where they have a lot of cars in and out.  Our neighborhood group house has one on one proportion of care staff to each resident.  We are not sure how many people actually live in the house and how do they do a resident count as far as our municipality as it seems that part of it defers to local zoning? Is it a head count of residents alone or is it a combined head count of residents and staff as a total head count if this is a home with 24 hour a day 7 days a week care?

The number of people is not only important from the view of what is it our local zoning actually allows (which is like a great mystery of life), but when considering things like septic systems.

We don’t have access to public sewer and we are all on septic.  And you can see multiple sand mounds on this property from public rights of way and neighbors’ side yards, and well those have to do with septic systems and how many of those can you dig on a property probably around an acre in size?

In the warmer weather you occasionally get septic smells from this group home.  We all do our best to treat our septic systems with respect and we know we have to limit massive amounts of water usage so as not to harm our systems.

We also pay attention and try to use more environmentally friendly cleaning products and clothes detergents.  We as more permanent residents know we have to do these thing but do the staff of this group home know or care about such things? Septic systems contain human waste.  Waste like that if it escapes septic tanks, fingers, and so on can spread disease.  What happens if the septic goes completely? How many of those mound things can you dig? How does that affect not only our quality of life as neighbors but the lives of the group home residents as well?

And to all of the things that go into “curb appeal” I would add good septic along with a tidied up property, wouldn’t you?  Because face it, the curb appeal of others’ affects your property values too, right?  Our homes are our castles, so you can’t blame people for having occasional concerns.  It is just trying to be a good neighbor and our neighborhood is pretty tight in that regard which I really like.

We see staff coming and going, but rarely see residents. Well we see one.  This resident sneaks out unsupervised and occasionally has issues.  The company that owns the group home in our neighborhood says their residents are not supposed to be unsupervised, that is why they have one on one care.

But the resident who wanders has done things like peep in people’s windows, including mine (which did scare the crap out of me early one morning).  That of course is not so much fun and well there are laws about what amounts to trespassing and being a peeping Tom.  But we haven’t as of yet called the local police about that, we just tell the company when he is out because he is developmentally disadvantaged.  We figure this resident probably misses having an actual family, only he’s not ours to care for. This poor person also occasionally has anger issues. That also isn’t ideal because we have kids and we worry about the acting out occurring when the kids are out playing because they are children and not equipped to handle things like that. And again, this person is not our responsibility.

My friends who have these group homes from similar companies experience varying degrees of issues from these homes as well.  Some have even told me of their concerns.  Some have had houses where the police have been called a great deal at different times or problems with an overabundance of people parking on lawns like it is a mall parking lot.   I have never seen the local police at our neighborhood group home, although once a few months ago I did see a county sheriff car stop by.

We are very lucky all things considered in our neighborhood.  I have seen homes like this end up on the news either because of living conditions or missing residents. But still we wonder what our rights are? Do we have the right to ask how many people live there and how many people by code are allowed to live in any kind of a group home? Should we be calling the police when residents wander alone nstead of the company’s local office?  And do we have the right to be concerned about upkeep of the property and worry when their septic smells?

I just don’t know,  so I am putting it out there to all of you.  Especially if you have such homes where you live. These residents of these group homes deserve to have a normal a life as possible, but they are sort of among the voiceless in our society so what do we or should we do if we think one of these houses has a problem? Additionally, what are our rights as property owners and residents and what do local municipalities do to ensure these group houses blend successfully into our communities and ensure that the actual residents are always safe?

I will throw something out there. Everyone knows I am not a huge fan of followers of Rudolf Steiner and Anthroposophy. However that being said, it seems that The Camphill Movement in Chester County does some pretty awesome things for developmentally disadvantaged children and adults.

In closing I will add I have been torn about this for a long time.  These homes are for a lot of us a relatively new phenomenon in our neighborhoods and communities.  And there are no guides or rule books for co-exisiting.  We have  ideas of the rights of the residents thanks to disability and housing rights laws, but there really doesn’t seem to be anything that lays out the rights of the people who live around them.  So maybe it would be nice if some group in Pennsylvania or local municipalities could give us an outline.

Thanks for stopping by.

DSC_3602

 

 

tredyffrin has hired a new manager…

So, Tredyffrin has a new manager.  I still have a bad taste in my mouth from what the exiting manager Mimi Gleason and VP of the Board of Supervisors John P. DiBuonaventuro did to fellow blogger and friend and all around awesome lady, Pattye Benson who authors Community Matters.

Tredyffrin has hired one of their hometown boys, Bill Martin, formerly of Radnor Township fame and the Bashore years.  Not that Bill Martin was a particular fan of Bashore’s (I was told he wasn’t), he was just from that truly unfortunate era.  An era which took the fortitude of some persistent residents, commissioners, and others who were on the up and up to correct.  It was not, however, without blood shed.

Bill Martin went from assistant township manager (and vartious other positions) in Radnor to interim township manager in Radnor in early 2010 when Radnor was saved from the debacle of almost hiring problematic ex-Coatesville manager Paul G. Janssen Jr. as interim township manager.  Martin, however, was ultimately passed over for the permanent manager position when Bob Zienkowski was bought in from Ohio.

I will tell you honestly I am of the Radnor Bob Zienkowski fan club and with good reason – he is amazing. He doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks the walk.   That man walked in to a hot mess, rolled up his sleeves, and got busy.

As an aside, some timely news about Radnor as it relates to Chester County is Bob Zienkowski suggested at the October 15th, 2012 public meeting that Radnor consider studying to leave Delaware County and to join either Chester or Montgomery County.  Yes, municipal secession (see Radnor meeting on You Tube for 10/15/12 and start listening just before 9 minutes 42 seconds to catch this.) The irony is I have always felt Radnor Township had more in common with Chester County versus Delaware County,  but I digress.

Ok back to Bill Martin.  After Radnor, he went to Bridgeport – a very tiny municipality in Montgomery County.  He has been there about a year as per newspaper article I found. Of course, Bill Martin joins another mid level Radnor refugee of the Bashore era, Matt Baumann, who is Tredyffrin’s current Director of Planning and Zoning.  Matt helped me when I got the historical marker for the Wayne Natatorium.  He’s a heck of a nice guy.

Bill Martin is also a nice guy from what I have always heard told.  But truthfully, Tredyfrrin as I see it is a municipality in need of serious remediation ASAP.  And choosing a manager who may or may not be a politically connected local resident may not be the way to go here.  I am actually going to disagree somewhat with my esteemed blogging colleague Pattye Benson ever so slightly.

Pattye comments that this is the first time a Tredyffrin Township Manager is a  Tredyffrin resident and lives in the township.  Now I agree with the residency part, and I think the departing and in the end disappointing Mimi Gleason is actually a West Chester area resident.  What I do not agree with is choosing someone who lives in Tredyffrin now as a manager.  I think the best thing that could have happened to Tredyffrin would have been a new Township Manager coming in from waaaay outside Tredyffrin and the area, truthfully.

I hope I am wrong, but I wonder if Bill Martin will have the chops in the end to take on what needs doing in Tredyffrin.  Tredyffrin has historically been subject to whispers – people are afraid of retribution. And before you poo poo me here, look what happened to Pattye Benson when she spoke up?  That still does not sit right with me, and I still believe that troll of a supervisor John P. DiBuonaventuro as well as Tredyffrin Township’s administration owes her an apology, don’t you?  In true lettergate fashion, I say a written apology.

Insular politics and politics of one party rule without much balance is bad for a community – just look at the snarl of tangled politics that is Lower Merion Township.

So I will be looking for Bill Martin to be an independent voice, beholden to no one.  I hope he can accomplish that.  I hope after what he saw and experienced at Radnor Township during the Bashore years that he can bring a different tone to Tredyffrin.

Congratulations Bill Martin, but my oh my you have a large job ahead of you.

Tredyffrin Appoints New Township Manager/Something about the new manager is very different than his predecessors.

ByBob Byrne  Email the author  5:56 am

Community Matters and TE Patch Blogger Pattye Benson reports that Tredyffrin Township’s Board of Supervisors has appointed a new Township Manager to replace Mimi Gleason, who left the position in September 17 after ten years with Tredyffrin Township…..What sets him apart from Gleason and others who have served as Tredyffrin Township Manager is that Martin is a resident of the township.

Full details on the new manager can be found here on Pattye Benson’s Community Matters/TE Patch Local Voices blog post.

ignorance is bliss?

Every once in a while I receive a comment that deserves it’s own post.  I am about to quote one back and file it under ignorance is bliss.

I wrote a post about a story I saw in Phoenixville Patch on illegal dumping in Mont Clare.  So I wrote a post .  I write lots of posts, right?  Also in this post I commented on a story in the Pottstown Mercury  about kids who were swimming in the Schuylkill River. So I got this comment:

Jes commented on trails are for illegal dumping ?

I do! There is nothing wrong with them wading in knee high depths of water where they were. Plus it’s none of your concern.

More information about Jes

IP: 96.227.13.249, pool-96-227-13-249.phlapa.east.verizon.net E-mail: jshlbug@msn.com URL: Whois: http://whois.arin.net/rest/ip/96.227.13.249

“Jes” , I am guessing, is responding specifically to this comment I made in that post:

So I looked online to see if any other media was covering this and other than something in the Pottstown-Mercury about kids from North Coventry looking for crawfish in the Schuykill and swimming who found guns instead. That was in the area of the Keim Street Bridge.   Ok also bad, and were they decontaminated after being in the river? And who the heck lets their kids swim in the river?

Well, Jes, yes I dared make a comment, and here is how I feel: telling me it is “none of my concern” to comment doesn’t quite cut it.  Every year there are stories in the papers and on the news on a state, local, regional, and national level about kids and adults who don’t know enough about large bodies of water and who drown unnecessarily.

Bringing it more local the Philadelphia region and being more specific, there are enough stories about kids drowning in the Schuylkill, that so sorry, I can indeed and will comment.

The Schuylkill is a body of water that needs to be respected and is hardly a still pond or pool.  There are currents and drop offs – wading can quickly enough become something else.  So do I think parents shouldn’t let their kids swim in the Schuylkill?  Yes.

And what happens when this no harm/no foul swimming/wading goes bad?

Check these stories  about drownings in  the  Schuylkill (and this is just a random sampling):

Drowned Reading boy pulled from Schuylkill River

Exeter Township fisherman drowns in Schuylkill River

Girl rescued from near drowning on Schuylkill River

Missing Drexel Student from NJ Found Dead in River: Police

Body of 9-year-old found in Schuylkill

Teenage girl drowns in Schuylkill

Body pulled from river identified as missing Trappe boy

Crews search for boys in river

And related to “Crews Search for boys in river” from 2003 is a highly quotable article:

Official says there was no one to rescue in Schuylkill River

“We’ve had no reports of missing persons. No one has made known to us that anyone is missing, and we’ve had no additional information,” North Coventry Police Cpl. Robert Malason said Thursday….”We don’t believe it was a hoax, because they were seen in the water by at least three separate groups,” Malason said. …..  Police theorize that the two teenage boys spotted in the river managed to get out of the fast-flowing waters themselves after jumping into the turbulent river from the Hanover Street bridge, something police say area youths do too often.

The report was that the two boys got into trouble right away, but managed to stop their ride downstream by grabbing onto large branches of a tree that had toppled close to the water, at least one witness told police.

 The witness told police he shouted at the two boys to hang on, jumped on his bike and rode quickly to the borough police station for help. By the time emergency units arrived on the scene, the boys were no longer hanging onto the tree branches.

Police had to treat the incident as though they had been swept away and possibly drowned, and so the search that involved fire companies and other emergency workers up and down the river from Pottstown to Phoenixville began.

 

First responder activity is expensive to municipalities, and I have been told these water rescue operations and even if they go from rescue to recovery are even more expensive. And there is risk involved for these first responders, you can say it is their job, but if the situation can be avoided through common sense, why not?

People do drown in the Schuylkill River.  And a lot of times the people drowning  are kids.  The Schuylkill River is also not the cleanest body of water.  Check out this thing on PhillyRiverCast:

The Schuylkill River, like all working rivers, is not a pristine body of water and is subject to contamination from many sources and activities that either discharge directly, or enter the river during rain events.

Because rivers are vulnerable to such contamination, recreation in or upon any body of water has with it an inherent risk of illness and infection for the individual involved.

And oh yes, check this out:

‘A polluter’s paradise:’ Report ranks Schuylkill and Delaware rivers poorly on chemical pollution

Published: Saturday, April 07, 2012

Despite the fact that it’s much cleaner than it used to be, the  Schuylkill River may still deserve its reputation for being polluted –  at least according to a report released March 22 that analyzes toxic  chemicals discharged into all the river systems of the United States.

In  Pennsylvania, the Schuylkill ranked as the third most polluted waterway  in the state for cumulative toxic discharges and slipped under the wire  into the 50 most polluted waterways in the nation, coming in at 49,  according to the report releases by the environmental advocacy group  PennEnvironment.

Perhaps more worrisome is that when looking at  entire watersheds, the Schuylkill River and all its tributaries  cumulatively rank 26th in the nation for “discharges of all toxic  chemicals in 2010.”….The report, titled “Wasting our Waterways: Industrial Toxic Pollution and the Unfilled promise of the Clean Water Act,”  examined industrial releases reported to the U.S. Environmental  Protection Agency’s Toxic Release Inventory for 2010, the most recent  data available.

So commenter, pardon me for the disagree, but golly gee whillikers, swimming in the Schuylkill River ain’t what it is cracked up to be.  Yes, for kids, it is a tremendous amount of fun (probably because they know they aren’t supposed to be in the river unless they are in a recreation area that has tubing and boating and similar activities), it is also dangerous.  From currents to contaminants.

Can I see this from my window?  No.  But can I comment? Yes.   Heck kids can even drown or nearly drown in large creeks.  The boy pulled from Ithan Creek in 2011 was in a coma as a result.  He suffered as a result (brain injury), and this boy and his family are fighting every day so he will get back his life. Now obviously if you read about this boy, it’s not like he had uncaring parents who did not care what he did, but accidents happen.

And if accidents like what happened to Logan Schweiter can happen in a creek, and every year you hear stories of drownings and near drownings in the Schuylkill River, why can’t people comment about this topic?

Sorry, but I think it is irresponsible to say wading or swimming in the powerful Schuylkill River outside a designated recreation area is just fine. I think it is an accident waiting to happen.

Thanks for playing chestercountyramblings.