[Hpn] Nassau County, NY - Fighting for a Home: Deal struck on shelter for disabled homeless - Newsday - July 18, 2002

H. C. Covington H. C. Covington" <icanamerica@bellsouth.net
Sun, 21 Jul 2002 01:27:16 -0500


Fighting for a Home: Deal struck on shelter for disabled homeless
state and local agencies for the homeless to designate a single employee to
coordinate compliance with the ADA
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By Roni Rabin - Newsday - July 18, 2002

Ever since she lost her apartment in Floral Park more than two years ago, Anne
Regan, who has multiple sclerosis, has shuttled from emergency shelter to
homeless hotel, her walker and belongings stowed in the back seat of her 1989
Toyota Tercel.

Fifty-five and fiercely independent, Regan has refused even temporary placement
in a nursing facility or adult home, fearing she might never regain the tools of
her autonomy - her car and home health aide - once she took such a step.

But when she was accommodated in a homeless shelter in Hempstead, she ran
headlong into a decade- old state rule that bars residents from receiving
personal care services - services Regan needs in order to get up in the morning,
bathe and dress.

An accessible motel room was found, but Nassau County Department of Social
Services regulations required Regan to check out every few days - and eventually
she lost the handicapped-accessible spot.

In October 2000, Regan, represented by Nassau/Suffolk Law Services attorney
Robert Briglio, filed a federal civil suit in U.S. District Court against state
officials and Nassau social services, charging the government's temporary
housing programs were discriminatory and violated the federal Americans with
Disabilities Act.

Last month, more than two years after the apartment she rented was sold and she
first sought shelter, Regan reached a comprehensive agreement with state and
county officials.

Under the deal, the agencies pledged to reform the temporary housing program,
making it more responsive to the needs of disabled clients - and scrapping the
ban on personal care services in shelters, Briglio said.

The suit had named Brian Wing, commissioner of the state Office of Temporary and
Disability Assistance, state Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello and Nassau
County Social Services Commissioner Robert Sherman.

"We didn't solve the larger problem of permanent housing and the lack of
accessible permanent housing for people who are disabled," Briglio said. "She is
still stuck and hasn't found anything. But we are well on our way to creating a
system of temporary housing that is fair, and provides her equal opportunities."

Regan has been sleeping in her car when she doesn't have a motel room; she meets
her personal care aide at street corners and uses public facilities to bathe.

The living situation has taken a toll on her already precarious health, she
said, aggravating the MS she has lived with for the last two decades.

"Two years ago I could put my own shoes and socks on - now I can no longer do
that," Regan said last week, sitting in her car, a file of social services
paperwork on her lap and a tube of toothpaste and container of dental floss
tucked in the pocket of the driver's side door. "This negative stuff impacts on
my health.... Scheduled sleeping, eating and resting is very important to the
management of MS."

Although Regan is still homeless, the legal agreement she reached has
implications for a growing number of disabled people on Medicaid who want to
live independently and who have resisted being shunted into nursing or group
homes, which is the way their cases have often been resolved in the past,
Briglio said.

In recent years, Helen Anderson, a 31-year-old Nassau County woman with spina
bifida who also sought temporary housing, had similar complaints and was added
to Regan's suit as a plaintiff.

Another, a 43-year-old man who was an amputee and used a wheelchair, died at
Nassau University Medical Center on May 5, 2000, after being denied emergency
housing and shuffled from one place to another, Briglio said.

As part of the agreement with Regan, each of the state and local agencies that
provide services to the homeless will designate a single employee to coordinate
compliance with the ADA, and to respond to complaints and requests for
"reasonable" accommodations.

"We agreed to remind local districts of their obligations arising out of ADA,"
said Jack Madden, a spokesman for the state Office of Temporary and Disability
Assistance.

He said the state Health Department has also already rescinded the 1992
administrative rule that banned personal care attendants from servicing clients
in shelters.

As part of the agreement, Nassau's Department of Social Services agreed to make
its services more accessible to the handicapped - providing cash benefit cards
for those who cannot travel to the office without difficulty, and putting in a
phone at the top of the long unwieldy access ramps that lead from the parking
lots into the Mineola offices, so clients can call for help.

Nassau also promised to encourage development of handicapped-accessible
temporary housing through the use of federal grants from the Department of
Housing and Urban Development, and to continue making sure temporary accessible
housing units are available "in the most integrated setting," according to the
agreement.

Permanent housing that is both affordable and accessible is scarce, advocates
say. Regan still gets nostalgic when she recalls the apartment she lived in for
13 years in Floral Park.

"It was perfectly accessible," she said. "You could roll out of bed and be in
the bathroom. You could stand in the kitchen and with one hand reach
everything."

The air conditioning in her car doesn't work, so on hot summer nights Regan buys
two large ice-cold bottles of Poland Spring water and places one at the base of
her neck and one at the base of her spine. "When it's brutally hot, that stops
the exacerbation of the illness," she said.
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Copyright  2002, Newsday, Inc.

H. C. [Sonny] Covington, Editor
Homeless and Housing News
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/HomelessNews