Victoria’s Diary: Time to act!

This can happen in your neighborhood.

New York Times reporter Benjamin Weiser recently reported that small Willowbrooks can emerge in every neighborhood group home for people with disabilities.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has slashed the budget providing funding to those group homes, which are mostly run by nonprofit groups. He has cut funding to the bone; there is no flesh left. Now, there is a staff shortage that is shockingly negatively impacting the care of our most helpless people.

Life’s WORC, the organization I founded in 1971, is operating more than 45 group homes and is desperate for appropriate funding to staff the group homes to the needs of the people living there. Perhaps we now need to revive the life-changing Willowbrook Consent decree signed by Gov. Hugh Carey in 1975.  

My daughter, Lara Schneps, a resident in the baby buildings at Willowbrook, was a plaintiff in the Willowbrook case filed in 1972 and then upon its success, lived in a group home run by the organization I founded. Murray, her father, was appointed by the courts in 1975 to be on the Willowbrook Consent Decree Review Panel

I’ve lived through the scandal created by Gov. Rockefeller’s cruel cuts to funds for the now infamous place.

Sadly we are reliving history. Gov. Cuomo must listen. His legacy cannot be the abuse of people who have suffered enough. The federal court ordered that the Willowbrook class members were to receive “high-quality services in appropriate community residential setting for the rest of their lives.”

I invite Gov. Cuomo to visit one of the infamous group homes in Manhattan that Life’s WORC took over from the state. When I visited there a few weeks after we took over the management of the home, I was horrified at what I saw.

It was similar to Willowbrook, with people poorly dressed and some half-naked. Those who needed wheelchairs were in chairs that were ill-fit for them. There was no safe way to exit from the multiple floors if there was a fire. There was no bathroom fitted for wheelchairs. Not one bedroom had a trace of personalized items; the rooms were cold and stark.

The Life’s WORC team fought for and got funds to make it the safe, nurturing home it is now.  

The group home is a place of dignity, safety and nutrition for the people who live there. But to ensure their safety, all the funding for those homes must be restored. Salaries must be appropriate for the trained staff, but now they are the same as a McDonald’s employee, because of funding cuts. 

“Gov. Cuomo, are you willing to have small warehouses for people with developmental disabilities and autism be your legacy?” 

Each individual has a “constitutional right to protection from harm,” according to the Consent Decree. I ask all advocates for people with disabilities and autism to cry out! Speak up now to the governor with letters and phone calls, before it’s too late.

The state budgets are being formulated now! We must be heard. It takes so little to accomplish so much. Show you care and call the governor’s office at 518-474-8390 now!

The power is in our hands

Living on Long Island, my power is provided by PSEG and we use a lot of it! But on Thursday night, there was a different kind of power. It was the people who gathered together, overflowing the ballroom to side rooms at The Carltun in Eisenhower Park, selected to the “Power List” of our media outlet the Long Island Press and boy did they shine!

I was thrilled to have the most powerful man in the region’s health world, Michael Dowling, CEO of Northwell Health, be our keynote speaker. His influential voice pleaded with his fellow influencers — the power listers — to use their voices to make changes in our society. He implored then that they can make a difference.

Michael Dowling, CEO of Northwell Health

He touched my heart by talking about gun violence as being a health issue, as it indeed is.

He got a well-deserved standing ovation with his calls for action.

Just a few days later I attended the Women for Tom Suozzi breakfast at the Chateau Briand Caterers in Carle Place. The congressman running for re-election spoke to the packed ballroom and had a supporter Linda Beigel Schulman speak on gun violence.

Tom Suozzi with gun violence advocate Linda Beigel Schulman, who spoke about the death of her son, a teacher who was killed in the Parkland massacre.

Linda’s son, Scott J. Biegel, was a 35-year-old teacher killed in the Parkland, Florida, murders. She has shown courage by becoming a staunch advocate for meaningful gun safety legislation on the state and federal levels. Tom sponsored legislation HR8, HR717 for strong gun safety laws.

Here is another chance to be heard to support legislation on the federal level. 

What’s great about our country is that each of us can be counted. From speaking out against cuts in the budgets, to serve people with disabilities, to gun violence to our schools and the environment, we can make a difference.

Voting for Queens Borough President is March 24 — early voting starts March 12 — followed by the congressional, assembly, state senate and presidential primary votes on April 28. It’s time to be counted. Make a difference. Call your political representatives. Vote. It only takes minutes to do and can make a difference in all our lives.

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