Community Board 12 members are up in arms over an application by Birch Family Services to open a group home. Birch is seeking to create a home for six autistic 21-year-olds.
As often happens in cases like this, the members explained that they have nothing against the organization seeking to open the home.
“The workers are nice people, but Community Board 12 is sick and tired of being bullied around,” said board member Adriene Adams.
She went on to explain that 10 out of 18 of the official homeless shelters in Queens are in CB 12, which covers Jamaica, Hollis, St. Albans, Springfield Gardens, Baisley Park and Rochdale Village.
A group home for disabled adults is not a homeless shelter. The implied comparison is not fair. Homeless shelters and group homes for retarded and autistic adults are necessary, but their impact on a neighborhood is different.
Felicia Robinson-Fiotillo, director of community services for Birch, told the board, “Our desire is to be good neighbors.”
It is unfortunate that Birch had to defend the right of its group homes to exist. Birch does outstanding work all over the city. Its Early Childhood Center, which opened in Springfield Gardens in 1982, serves preschoolers with disabilities as well as typically developing 3- and 4-year-olds. The people living in CB 12 would be proud if they understood the work being done there.
Birch should be applauded for the care it provides. Autism is a frightening condition that doctors still do not fully understand. In its most severe form adults suffering from autism may be unable to care for themselves. It is far more compassionate to allow these adults to live in a group home in a real neighborhood than to warehouse them in a large institution.
The board members opposing the Birch home had good intentions. It is their job to look out for the interest of the people living in southeast Queens. They are right to question why so many homeless shelters are located here.
But opposing Birch Family Services is wrong.