How long have group homes and community residences been in New Jersey?
People with disabilities have been living in community programs such as group homes and supervised apartments across New Jersey for more than three decades. They have been living, working, going to school, making friends, and attending church — in short, living their lives — just like all of us.
Why is SERV allowed to have a group home or apartment program in my neighborhood?
SERV operates licensed community residences for the people who are struggling to cope with a serious disability. These facilities are allowed, by law, in every residential zone in New Jersey. Any restrictions on where mentally ill or developmentally disabled individuals may live are a violation of their rights under the Federal Fair Housing Act as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act.
What types of disabilities do the residents of SERV programs have?
SERV provides services for adults, children and families who are working to recover from and cope with a mental illness or developmental disability. Some of the residents also have medical or physical disabilities as well. SERV also provides services to youth who are placed through DYFS due to abuse or neglect.
Where do the patients come from?
Our main referral sources include Trenton Psychiatric Hospital (TPH) and Greystone State Hospital. We also take some referrals from the community through other human services agencies such as the Division of Developmental Disabilities or by way of family, friends or healthcare professionals who know of someone who needs our services.
What kind of screening do SERV consumers have before placement in a SERV residence?
A number of people including SERV staff screen all referrals before they are accepted into any SERV program. The exact process varies for each type of referral agency:
State Hospital Referrals - The staff of the referring hospital screens all patients who may be discharged to a group home placement. Prior to discharge the hospital staff, led by the patient’s treating psychiatrist, must determine that the patient is not a danger to themselves or others. An independent agency contracted to provide Intensive Case Management Services (ICMS) works with both the hospital staff and potential group home residents to prepare them for community placement. When hospital staff and ICMS staff feel a patient is ready for community placement, they will refer the patient to SERV. SERV staff meets with both the patient and the referring staff and reviews the patient’s records. The staff will then determine if the patient is appropriate for the available opening. Additional assessments are performed and additional documentation is requested from the referral source. Only when all steps are completed is the individual considered for placement in a SERV facility.
Community Referrals - Community referrals happen in much the same way, however, ICMS is not always a part of the community referral process. There is an assessment that includes a face to face interview with the potential patient and documentation/medical review. Staff reviews the referral for both appropriateness and fit with the available openings before admission is agreed upon.
Developmental Disability Services - Referrals for our programs come through the Division of Developmental Disabilities. Documents are reviewed and potential consumers are interviewed and assessed as in other referral processes. A placement committee meets to determine the appropriateness and best fit for the consumer.
What is the “treatment” for residents of SERV programs?
It is SERV’s goal to assist the people who come into our care to live and work successfully in their communities as they gradually build a more independent and meaningful life outside the walls of an institution. To do this effectively, SERV integrates housing and supportive services to address the needs of the whole person and does not treat just an illness.
Each of SERV’s consumers participates in creating a treatment plan that includes goals and objectives for them to accomplish. Staff works with consumers to accomplish their goals by providing assistance in all “activities of daily living” such as nutrition, home maintenance, personal hygiene, symptom management and medication. We also help the residents access medical, vocational, and other treatment in the community. All of the work with the residents is focused on the residents increasing their independence so that they may move to more independent living and eventually move on to a home of their own.
What if a consumer has an emotional or psychiatric emergency?
The staff in our programs is well trained in recognizing psychiatric problems early. This enables them to help the resident get the treatment needed to avoid an emergency. All of the group home staff is trained in crisis management as part of their initial training and many are certified by the National Crisis Prevention Institute in non-violent crisis intervention. This training gives them tools to de- escalate a crisis situation and help the consumer resolve whatever problems he/she may be having. If other intervention is needed, the staff contacts the designated psychiatric screening center in that county.
Will there be people in the group home who are dangerous?
No. SERV and the Department of Human Services take their responsibility to New Jersey communities and the vulnerable people we serve very seriously. In fact, SERV has a 38-year track record of providing safe, quality residential programs in local communities. No one who is considered to be a danger to themselves or to others is recommended for a community home.
People with disabilities are no more dangerous than the population-at-large. Indeed, studies have shown that people with disabilities are more likely to be victims themselves. Still, there are many myths associated with having a disability. The myth that people with disabilities are unusually dangerous creates a painful obstacle for people with developmental disabilities or mental illness.
Why didn’t SERV notify the township or neighbors prior to moving in?
Because it is against the law to do so. Homes for people with disabilities share the same rights as everyone else in choosing where to live. The Federal Fair Housing Act, originally created to protect the rights of minority groups to live where they choose, was extended in 1988 to specifically include people with disabilities. Everyone benefits from this right and all of us have an obligation to abide by this federal law protecting our right to live where we choose, without discrimination.
Housing for people with disabilities should be treated in the same way as housing for any citizen - that’s the law. For instance, the law similarly forbids municipal officials to be notified when other minority groups move into a neighborhood.
What kind of supervision does SERV provide for the consumers?
SERV Group homes will have 24-hour awake coverage. During the hours when the residents are at home and awake there will be a second counselor assigned to the house. Apartment program staff may be on-site up to 24 hours a day. In apartment programs where residents have increased their skills for independence, staff may be onsite less. SERV staff is always on-call to apartment residents.
Additionally, a master’s level clinician supervises the site staff and leads the treatment team. There is an extensive system of backups for staff on-site and there is always a clinician on call to help the on-site staff deal with any problems that may arise. Also the local director, facility manager, and senior management are available by pager and can respond to any problems.
Does SERV do a background check on its employees working on the premises?
SERV performs a background check on all new employees. This includes reference checks and a criminal background check. An outside contractor performs these checks.
Are SERV programs licensed or regulated? By whom?
Specific licensing requirements for health and safety safeguard SERV residents. Prior to opening, the group home or apartment is inspected by the licensing arm of the Department of Human Services to ensure compliance with all regulations. The homes are licensed and inspected regularly by the Department of Human Services. The department requires SERV to adhere to an ongoing system of monthly reporting and monitoring, and social workers and residents’ family members have unrestricted access to the homes. This combination of openness and oversight means that any problems in the home can be quickly detected and resolved. Group home staff conducts monthly safety inspections with administrative staff inspecting quarterly.
Will having a SERV program nearby lower my property value?
There is an overwhelming volume of evidence that homes for people with disabilities do not significantly impact property values. In a review of 47 studies from 1973-1993, researchers found that property values remain unaffected by homes for people with disabilities. The studies also revealed that group homes do not make properties close to the homes harder to sell.
- For example: Julian Wolpert, Princeton University, studied the impact of group homes for people with mental retardation in ten NY State communities and compared the findings with 42 other communities without group homes. Wolpert found that there was no significant difference in property values and no decline in the value of adjacent properties in the study area.
- Another study of property market activity around 12 Philadelphia mental health facilities also concluded that no decline in sales prices occurred due to the presence of community homes.
- The Community Services Information Program reviewed a total of 58 studies, spanning nearly two decades, from 1970-1989. The research reviewed consistently demonstrated that group homes have not negatively impacted property values or property turnover rates.
- Among these studies, S. Breslow, Princeton University, reviewed the impact of 16 community residences for the developmentally disabled, mentally ill, veterans, neglected children and the elderly on the real estate market in White Plains, NY. He found that the homes did not depress property values and, in some cases, caused appreciation of property values.
- (Believed to be the result of renovations to the homes.) In Stamford Connecticut, property values in eight neighborhoods with group homes were compared to 23 neighborhoods without group homes. The group homes housed chronically mentally ill and mentally retarded adults, homeless families, adolescent males and recovering alcoholics. The researchers concluded that the data provided strong evidence that group homes have no effect on property values.
Will the SERV residents be allowed into the neighborhood alone?
The residents have the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else in the neighborhood. They may take a walk, go to the local shops and use local public transportation, just like anyone else.
What laws apply to the siting of a community residence?
The Federal Fair Housing Act (42 U.S.C. 3601 et seq.):
- Prohibits local zoning rules to discriminate in housing opportunities for the disabled;
- Makes it unlawful to deny a dwelling to any buyer or renter because of a handicap.
The Municipal Land Use Law (N.J.S.A. 40:55 D-66.1 and 66.2)
- requires all residential districts in the state to permit new community residences.
- Specifically protects community residences that are licensed by the state
- Prohibits municipal authorities from excluding group homes from their communities (S.210); and requires DHS to place handicapped individuals in community residences whenever possible (N.J.S.A.30:6-D-13 and N.J.S.A. 30:11B-1)
- In addition, State Statute (N.J.S.A. 30:11-B-5) requires DHS to ensure that homes for the handicapped are geographically “available throughout the state without unnecessary concentration.” These living arrangements are established in N.J. S. A. 30:11B-1 et.seq. Stringent standards for opening, licensing and operating a community residence are delineated in N.J.A.C. 10:44A.
Are SERV residential programs mandatory?
SERV residential programs are considered to be voluntary. Individuals who require a locked facility for mandated treatment are not appropriate for our programming.
Where do people living at SERV go when they leave?
SERV assists residents in finding affordable housing when it is possible, allowing many people to live independently. Some of our residents move in with relatives. Others may need more intensive services than we provide, in which case, we work with them to arrange for the appropriate services with another treatment provider.
Whom do I call if I have questions or issues regarding a community residence near me?
If you have a question or concern about a SERV site, contact our administrative office at (800) 987-SERV (7378) OR (877) DHS-LINE (347-5463) OR the Mental Health Association in N.J.'s helpline " Mentalhealthcares" at (866) 202-HELP (202-4357).
You can also e-mail us your questions or concerns by clicking here.
What can we do to make SERV residents feel like a part of our neighborhood?
Treat them like any other neighbor.
Where else can I get information about community housing? Visit the N.J. Department of Human Services’ “Good Neighbor” web site: