Home is where you feel safe and loved. What if the only home you could ever remember told you that you would soon become homeless because the government decided not to fund your segregated-living environment? The policies created in the past 10 years by people without disabilities decided that living in a group home (larger than four individuals) was not healthy and too isolated. So now the new housing trend dictated by the federal government has endangered funding for the few remaining larger “group homes” in Georgia.
A few are in danger of closing, and several others have already closed their doors. It is through the benevolence of corporations and individuals surrounding that community that preserves these communities. Where do those individuals with disabilities go to live if these homes do not obtain the funding they need to stay alive? There are very few options, and those with tiny social security checks have almost no options.
In 2010, Georgia signed an agreement with the federal government to change the way it served people with developmental disabilities and severe mental illness, including its policies on housing. The goal was to integrate individuals with intellectual or physical challenges into their communities from the very institutions accused of hundreds of deaths of residents that called that institution home. This meant moving most of them to group homes or private residences called “host homes” after the closures. This unfortunately, made sense clinically but was almost impossible to achieve in reality. A multi-billion dollar industry that runs group and host homes now have primarily taken the place of institutional care. The plight of appropriate and standardized care has marginally improved, but now has created a housing crisis for adults with disabilities.
Individuals with disabilities must be eligible for Medicaid to receive government assistance for housing and services. This process is a maddening maze of bureaucracy and forms to secure funding for housing. Each program is designed to help people who qualify for institutional care or nursing homes. Most group home residents are eligible for this funding, but in most cases it takes a very long time to receive that funding. Then those monies are only available for certain services and very often housing is not included. So where do the residents of the disappearing group homes go, especially when their tiny Social Security checks can’t afford their rent?
Several of the nonprofit group homes still in existence depend on the kindness and benevolence of the community that surrounds them. On the other hand, they survive by charging an excessive rate, sometimes closer to $4,000 per month, and all of these small communities of survival, love and care compete for donations. This new generation would prefer to click a button or send a text to contribute to nonprofits, thereby endangering the availability of contributions to help with personal care homes and their operating expenses. The place that 23 residents call home is Hickory Log Vocational School in Cartersville. This organization desperately relies on this type of funding and in-kind donations for survival. Economic climate also dictates the amount of giving and further endangers the ability of adults with disabilities to find affordable, supervised living quarters.
The residents at Hickory Log range in age from 36 to 83 years of age. It started as a vocational school, helping homeless and the disabled that had nowhere to go, teaching them job skills including hog farming and other agricultural skills. There are still wild hogs roaming the 27-acre community. Today it is home, under the title of a personal care home, in which 24 developmentally disabled men find joy, love and support. Some have no family at all, some have extended family but prefer to live in this supported and loving environment instead. One resident has lived there for 40 years and another, 35 years and yet another 30 years. Each occupant has a story, one of encouragement and gratitude to live among the inhabitants of the Log. It is the love of the Log that has sustained itself and the grace of God. For 49 years, the benevolence of its surrounding communities has become part of each tenant’s story, in turn creating new stories for the generous donors. Volunteers and donors become touched with the gentleman upon meeting them, which has made it so easy to donate time and/or money to this great cause through the years. I invite you to come and observe for yourself the love that is poured out upon “the guys” by the loving staff and the kindness of strangers. I guarantee it will bring a tear to your eye and tug at your heart to return as if old friends. How can oversight and government agencies say that “segregated” living is harmful and against the rights and freedoms of those living within its walls? It is hard for me to fathom, especially after experiencing the love and living hope I experienced with the people at Hickory Log. When naysayers and doomsayers say the sky is falling, all they have to do is come visit and meet the residents at Hickory Log. They will fall in love with “the Log.” One will experience a sense of hope and passion that is difficult to find anywhere else in this world. If interested in donating or volunteering for this worthy cause, please see their website www.hickorylog.org.