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There Goes the Neighborhood
July 30, 2011 permalink
A formerly peaceful neighborhood in Connecticut has been turned into a war zone by the presence of a group home. Police are called regularly and one graduate recently killed a local convenience store clerk.
Neighbors Concerned About Safety, Constant Police Presence At Group Home For Teenage Boys
— Local and state officials say they are working to address residents' concerns about safety and a frequent police presence in what had been a quiet neighborhood.
The focus of the concerns is a home for abused and neglected teenage boys run by a contractor for the state Department of Children and Families. Town board of directors member Jay Moran, who lives near the raised ranch at 89 Nutmeg Drive, said residents want some assurance of safety.
"We as the neighborhood are worried about our own children and families," Moran said. "Personally, I'm not upset that they put a home there, but we want the satisfaction that these kids are being controlled."
Residents' long-term doubts about that control were heightened recently with the arrest of Charles Wilson, 19, who is accused of shooting and killing a local convenience store clerk on May 22. Police Chief Marc Montminy verified Friday that Wilson had lived at the Nutmeg Drive home several years ago.
"Who is the next Charles Wilson who will be living in this home?" asked Nutmeg Drive resident Craig Cinquemani.
Beyond safety concerns, local police say a major problem is the many calls officers must respond to regarding residents of the home who are absent without permission. In 2010, police responded to 74 calls at 89 Nutmeg Drive. Through June 20 of this year, police have been called to the home 70 times. Of those 144 calls, 120 were for teenagers who were reported missing, Montminy said.
In the great majority of cases, the boy returrned or was brought back the same day. However, when police receive such calls — not only from the Nutmeg Drive home, but also from several other local group homes for children — an officer must gather information from the home staff, file a report in a national database and go back to the home to ensure that the child has returned, Montminy said.
"We're concerned that these homes are causing us hundreds and hundreds of calls every year that could easily be avoided and our time could be used elsewhere," he said.
Local police met with DCF representatives recently to discuss the reporting policy, and DCF spokesman Gary Kleeblatt said Friday that a change is in the works. Instead of automatically calling police when a child does not report back in time, staff at the home will call the DCF hotline to assess whether a police call is warranted, Kleeblatt said.
Besides the missing children reports, police also have been called to 89 Nutmeg Drive and other local DCF-contracted group homes for reports of illegal drugs or larcenies from area residents, Montminy said.
"None of that makes the residents feel warm and fuzzy," he said.
The Nutmeg Drive home, which opened in 2006, is one of several small, residential facilities operated by Southington-based Community Residences Inc. as a DCF STAR (Short Term Assessment and Respite) facility. STAR facilities serve as temporary homes and treatment centers for teenage boys and girls who have been "abused and/or neglected and are in crisis and/or homeless," according to the Community Residences website, http://www.criinc.org/star.html.
"It should be assumed," according to the DCF, "that children and youth placed in these homes will have some level of emotional or behavioral disturbance that may include, but is not limited to … conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, intermittent explosive disorder, and impulse control disorder. Children and youth referred to these homes may also have some level of psychosexual behavior problems, mood or anxiety disorders or may have mild to moderate developmental disabilities."
Kathy Sanborn, who lives next door to the Nutmeg Drive home, said problems ebb and flow with different boys and supervisors at the facility. In the past when her children had parties, teenagers from the group home tried to intimidate young guests and asked them if they had alcohol or marijuana, Sanborn said. Two months ago as she sat on her deck with her two nieces, ages 3 and 4, they heard a loud splat. A raw egg that had been thrown from the group home property slopped down from the garage roof onto the deck, Sanborn said.
Sanborn said she would be "much happier" if the group home were not next door, "but I'm torn, too, because I understand these kids need a place to be."
Residents have told Moran and state Rep. Jason Rojas, D-Manchester, that among their chief concerns is the staff's lack of ability to contain the boys, ages 13 to 18. Community Residences Executive Director Paul Rosin said staff at the home may only restrain a teenager if he poses a danger to himself or others.
For each case, the DCF determines whether the STAR program is a safe and appropriate placement, Rosin said, and he and his staff can counter the agency's appraisal if they feel a child should be sent elsewhere. Community Residences works toward being a good neighbor in Manchester and in other towns where they run STAR homes, Rosin said.
At the same time, he said, staff are focused on serving abused and neglected children.
"My take on it is the children are the victims," Rosin said.
Moran and Rojas said they are trying to arrange a meeting between Community Residences, the DCF and neighborhood residents to discuss the situation. Rojas said he wants to find a balance "between protecing the youth from potential harm, but also taking the neighbors into account with the constant police presence."
But Cinquemani said only removal of the home would alleviate his concerns. The home cannot be good for real estate values, he said, and he and his fellow neighbors have been forced to change their lifestyles, locking every door and being constantly vigilant. Also, Cinquemani said, the local police force is being used as "an escort service" for the Nutmeg Drive home and others in town.
"Who's paying for that?" he asked.
Source: Hartford Courant