Nonprofits sue to build group homes for disabled in Hecker

News-DemocratOctober 10, 2013 

A lawsuit alleges the village of Hecker discriminated against the disabled in denying plans to build two group homes for the developmentally disabled.

Nonprofit groups Human Support Services and Monroe County Apartments 4 Association along with family members of two disabled residents filed the suit last week asking a federal judge to force the Village Board to allow the construction of homes, which would house four developmentally disabled residents in the Freedom Village subdivision.

Hecker Mayor Charles Kujawski could not be reached for comment. Otto Faulbaum, an attorney representing the nonprofit groups and disabled residents, declined to comment.

Hecker, a village of about 500 people, is located near New Athens in Monroe County.

The suit alleges the board violated federal laws prohibiting discrimination against disabled people, such as the Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act. The proposed homes are compatible with land uses, closely resemble other single-family residences in the neighborhood, and have "nothing to indicate that these homes will be occupied by persons with disabilities," according to the lawsuit.

Human Support Services provides mental health services, substance abuse assistance and services to those with developmental disabilities in a supportive housing program in Waterloo. Most common clients with disabilities have mental impairment, autism, cerebral palsy and epilepsy.

Each home would house four people with developmental disabilities, including the two residents filing the suit. The residents would live together as a family unit, sharing meals and most of them continuing to work at the sheltered workshop.

Funding for the homes stems from a state program encouraging those with developmental disabilities to live in the community as opposed to institutions.

The board unanimously voted against the proposed homes during a meeting Sept. 10. Eight residents threatened legal action against the board should its seven members grant construction of the homes during the meeting.

The September meeting followed a "hostile" meeting in April in which 30 residents expressed opposition to the proposal, according to the lawsuit.

Two sheriff's deputies kept order as residents complained the homes were "out of character with the neighborhood" and property values would decline. The residents also claimed disabled residents were not safe because Hecker is far from emergency medical services in Belleville.

The nonprofit groups have sought to build the group homes for the past five years because many clients require greater level of supervision than a disabled person can receive in an individual apartment, according to court documents.

The disabled residents mentioned in the suit are only identified through initials of their names in court documents. Both currently live in apartments owned and operated by Human Support Services in Waterloo.

"C.B." is a 54-year-old woman diagnosed with a mild mental disability at infancy and is currently undergoing chemotherapy to combat liver cancer. Because of her cancer treatments and disability, she is not able to live independently without significant support from others. Without the group home, C.B. will likely have to move to a nursing home, according to the lawsuit.

The other disabled resident in the suit is "T.F." He is described as a severely mentally disabled 58-year-old man who is visually and hearing impaired.

Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at dkelley@bnd.com or 618-239-2501.

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