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Neighbors’ strong rejection of homes for disabled youth leaves hurt feelings, accusations of discrimination

Strong emotions, hurt feelings, and accusations of discrimination, after a debate over a home for young people with disabilities.

Strong emotions, hurt feelings, and accusations of discrimination, after a debate over a home for young people with disabilities.

The Licking County Board of Developmental Disabilities had proposed two group homes in Liberty Township.

But homeowners pushed back hard.

A field off of Crouse-Willison Road was the proposed site for one of two group homes:

A four-person respite home for youth with developmental disabilities.

"Families sometimes just need rest, and just need a break,” said Jason Umstot, CEO and Superintendent of the Licking County Board of Developmental Disabilities. “When we talk about respite it's not really in a clinical fashion. It's really about rest."

The proposal was up for discussion at a June 8 meeting of the Liberty Township Trustees.

And the public response was overwhelming.

"Children who need to be in respite are in respite because those they normally live with cannot handle them. Those are troubled youth,” said one opponent.

"It's not safe for the children. These teens attack one another. There will not be a police response regardless of whether you've got staff there or not, for a while,” said another.

"No one out here wants this thing. Why are you pushing it so hard right here? No one wants it. Just move it somewhere else,” said a third.

"Nor do I want my kids to be friends, with kids that are troubled,” said one homeowner. “That I have to then have to intervene and explain why we don't do these things. I'm trying to raise my kids in an environment that is healthy and that shows them that we care about one another. We care about our neighbors."

"There are more than 20 neighbors on this call,” said another resident. “You have the whole neighborhood. Not one person in this neighborhood has been in support of this. Period."

“The comments were hurtful. They were hurtful,” said Umstot.

He says he's opened more than fifty homes in his career, but never had a response like this.

"We've come a long way in the last five decades to go backwards. And this really did in our minds set us back to the way we're thinking decades ago."

Brittaney Crider's daughter Natalie lives with a rare neuro-developmental disorder called GRIN2B.

"I think that what hurt me the most is that another mother said she did not want her kids to play with troubled kids. My daughter is not troubled. She has a disability. And it's not her fault, and to just assume that she's that way is just really, really hurtful."

After the June 8th meeting, Umstot pulled this location from consideration.

He agrees homeowners so have a right to express concern about something they perceive will change their neighborhood.

“But we also have to understand that people with disabilities have the same right as well. Saying that the kids that we support aren't welcome, in my opinion, is discrimination."

Opponents of the plan insisted that's not the case.

Supporters call this an opportunity for understanding.

"I just hope that wherever these homes end up being built, that they're welcomed by the community,” said Crider. “And they understand that individuals with disabilities have values and they have rights, and they deserve all the care in the world."

Umstot says the Board is now searching for a new location for these homes.

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