The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York announced today that they, along with plaintiff adult home residents, entered into a comprehensive settlement agreement with the state of New York under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The settlement agreement will provide relief to thousands of people with mental illness unnecessarily segregated in 23 adult homes in New York City. Adult homes are institutional, segregated settings that house large numbers of people with mental illness.
Under the settlement agreement, New York will offer supported housing to people with mental illness currently residing in adult homes. Supported housing is apartments scattered throughout the community for which the state provides rental assistance and housing-related support services. Supported housing residents have access to community-based services and supports that promote their inclusion, independence, and full participation in community life. The settlement agreement has been filed with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York for the court’s approval.
The Supreme Court made clear in its landmark decision Olmstead v. L.C, that people with disabilities have a civil right under the ADA to receive services in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs. The state worked cooperatively with the department and private plaintiffs to negotiate a settlement that resolves the allegations that the New York mental health service system violates the ADA by relying on large, institutional adult homes instead of supported housing units that are scattered throughout the community. A state is responsible for segregation when it designs and implements a system that unnecessarily relies on institutional facilities, regardless of whether they are privately owned and operated.
“Today’s settlement agreement reaffirms the right of people with disabilities to live independently and participate in all aspects of community life,” said Eve L. Hill, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “This agreement creates opportunities for thousands of New Yorkers with mental illness to participate fully in community life, enriching local communities and ending the stigmatization of institutional life. Governor Andrew Cuomo played a crucial role in making this agreement a reality, and I commend his leadership.”
Over the next five years, New York will provide scattered-site supported housing to at least 2,000, and potentially more than 4,000, adult home residents. New York has also committed to providing people moving to supported housing with the community-based services and supports that will allow them to thrive in the community. The agreement also will ensure that adult home residents have the information they need to make an informed choice about where to live. If they choose to move to supported housing, they will participate in a person-centered, transition planning process. An independent reviewer with extensive experience in mental health systems will monitor the state’s compliance with the agreement.
Because of this agreement, people like Ilona Spiegel, one of the named plaintiffs, will get the opportunity to live independently and “become emancipated” after 15 years in an adult home. Spiegel lived independently in her own apartment until she received psychiatric treatment in a hospital in 1998. When she left the hospital, her only discharge option was to move into an adult home. In the adult home, Spiegel shares a small room with a roommate, has scheduled mealtimes and no opportunity to cook for herself, has little privacy as staff have entered her room without permission and finds living in the adult home extremely isolating. Spiegel has said that she cannot wait to live in her own apartment again and have autonomy over her life, including doing her own cooking, cleaning and shopping, have personal privacy in her home, and be free from intrusion into her personal belongings.
Loretta E. Lynch, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York stated: “With this agreement, thousands of New Yorkers will be able to leave the shadow of institutional living and instead live in and contribute to their communities. Because of this cooperative effort, their lives will be immeasurably better and our communities all the richer for their presence.”
The individual plaintiff adult home residents, on behalf of themselves and a class of adult home residents with mental illness, are represented by Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP; Disability Advocates Inc.; Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law; New York Lawyers for the Public Interest; MFY Legal Services Inc.; and Urban Justice Center.
The Civil Rights Division enforces the ADA, which authorizes the attorney general to investigate whether a state is serving individuals with disabilities in the most integrated settings appropriate to their needs. Visit www.justice.gov/crt to learn more about the Olmstead decision, the ADA, and other laws enforced by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
This agreement is due to the efforts of the following Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorney’s Office staff: Alison Barkoff, Special Counsel for Olmstead Enforcement; Rebecca B. Bond, Chief of the Disability Rights Section; Sheila Foran, Special Legal Counsel; Amanda Maisels and Nicholas Lee, Trial Attorneys; Lance Simon, Contractor; and Michael J. Goldberger, Chief of Civil Rights in the Civil Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.