Group home creates controversy in Wilmington

February 19, 2008 4:41:45 PM PST
A new group home for psychiatric patients opening in Delaware is at the center of a bitter neighborhood dispute. People living around a home on Dartmouth Woods Road say they're not just upset about who's moving in. They're upset about how they found out - and those neighbors claim they were lied to.

Nearly 50 residents gathered outside a soon to be opened group home in North Wilmington's Dartmouth Woods development. They're upset because it will house five men with mental health problems who are being moved from the Delaware Psychiatric Center. The house is next door to retired people and across the street from a home based day care.

"I don't feel safe about it. We don't know anything about these people," says Dot Hughes.

Julie Ferreri of North Wilmington says, "We don't know the severity of why they're there. They're from the psych unit. And we want to make sure the kids and the children are safe."

The men moving here are among 35 institutionalized people transferring to area group homes and supervised apartments. They reportedly suffer from things like bipolar disorder and depression... mental illnesses authorities say make them better suited for home settings than institutions.

The Delaware Department of Health and Social services subcontracts and overseas community mental health services and guarantees the men moving here are not dangerous.

"No one we believe that would pose threat to anybody in any community would be moved into a community. That's not what community re-integration is about," explains Jay Lynch of the Delaware Health and Social Services Department.

What makes things worse is neighbors feel deceived. They say someone doing renovations there claimed he was moving in with a disabled aunt. Of course it turns out that's not true.

The owner is leasing the house for group home use. Group homes are not required to notify neighbors of potential residents' mental health problems. But one neighbor, a psychotherapist who has some mentally ill clients, says a bit of information from authorities could help allay people's fears.

"They can explain more so that people don't fear that we're going to have people running around the neighborhood threatening us and our children," said Stephanie Sklodowski.

Authorities have called a meeting with residents to address questions about the group home. It is to be held Tuesday February 26th at the Talley Middle School. The group home in Dartmouth Woods is scheduled to open at the end of this month.