Neighbors Raise Concerns About Proposed Group Home

BERLIN – Concerns about proposed transitional housing for mentally ill members of the community coming to an otherwise quiet neighborhood in Berlin could be unfounded as the non-profit company with a contract to purchase the home in question attempted to allay some of the fears this week.

At Monday’s Mayor and Council meeting on Monday, residents of Maple Drive raised concerns about Go-Getters Inc., a non-profit organization on the Lower Shore that provides rehabilitative services to mentally ill members of the community, purchasing a home on their street for transitional housing. The concerned residents feared the house in question would become a “group home” of sorts for mentally ill individuals, compromising the safety and security of the otherwise quiet street, where residents often leave their doors unlocked.

Go-Getters is a psychiatric rehabilitation program offering a broad array of programs designed to assist people recovering from severe mental illness to integrate more fully into their home communities. The non-profit organization currently covers the three counties of the Lower Shore with strong presences in Wicomico and Somerset Counties, but its only facility in Worcester at the moment is a one-bedroom apartment in Snow Hill.

The group has a contract on a house on Maple Drive in Berlin, which it intends to utilize as housing for rehabilitating mentally ill members to transition back into the community. Go-Getters provides services for a wide range of mentally ill members from those with critical needs that need around-the-clock care and supervision to those who are independent but still need some services.

The types of members Go-Getters hopes to house at the residence on Maple Drive in Berlin fall somewhere in between, according to Go-Getters Director Richard Bearman, who said this week the home would host up to three individuals who would be supervised for most of the day, but would be largely left alone overnight from about 9 p.m. to around 7 a.m.

On Monday, residents on Maple Drive voiced concerns to the Mayor and Council about the possibility of transitional housing for mentally ill individuals in their otherwise quiet neighborhood. One resident, who wished to remain anonymous, went so far as to suggest drug addicts and alcoholics would be roaming the streets and knocking on their doors late at night.

“We are very concerned about that house that was sold,” she said. “Instead of our little, quiet semicircle, the neighborhood will be total chaos. We’re going to have to change our lifestyle. Right now, some people on the street leave their doors unlocked, but that is going to have to change.’

Another resident suggested the Go-Getters home on Maple Drive could proliferate into something much larger and, ostensibly, much worse for the community.

“This is how Church Street in Salisbury started,” he said. “First, it was one house, then another and another until it became what it is today. We can walk around our neighborhood at night and always feel safe, but this is going to put an extra burden on our police department and cause other problems.”

However, Bearman this week attempted to allay the concerned residents’ fears, describing the potential occupants of the home on Maple Drive as harmless and likely not recognizable as individuals with mental illness if seen in a grocery store or the post office, for example.

“These are individuals with problems that are just trying to integrate back into the community,” he said. “I’ve heard the concerns about the dangers, but they are simply unfounded. Most people with mental illness are far more vulnerable than dangerous. With a few exceptions, these are people trying to find a safe neighborhood where they can begin to function independently.”

Bearman said his agency is completely transparent and is not trying to disguise the proposed facility on Maple Drive as something it is not. He intends to hold an open house after settlement so the neighbors can meet the new residents and see for themselves.

“The one thing I wish to convey is that we want to be good neighbors,” he said. “There is a certain stigma attached to mental illness, but these people are not much different than the rest of us. They just need some help transitioning back into their community.”

One potential problem to overcome is the zoning for the property. Maple Drive is in the town’s R-2 residential district, and under the code, does not allow group homes, or houses occupied by multiple unrelated individuals. Mayor Gee Williams said on Monday although he has not seen any formal proposal from Go-Getters, the plan might not past muster.

“To the best of my knowledge, this is R-2 and it appears this would be a group home,” he said. “I can’t imagine why we would want to change the character of our residential neighborhoods. What we think they’re proposing doesn’t appear to fit anywhere in our code.”

However, Bearman said he believes the Go-Getters home on Maple Drive will meet the code.

“We’re looking at three bedrooms and three people, not a group home,” he said. “The state defines a group home at a certain number of residents and we won’t even approach that number.”