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Garafola Testifies for Special Needs Adults Housing Bill

Tells committee more than 8,000 in New Jersey waiting for a place to live.

Submitted by Tom Krantz

Housing for New Jersey adults with autism and other developmental disabilities is "at a crisis" with more than 8,000 people on waiting lists for group homes, according Warren Mayor Carolann Garafola, who is also executive director of the soon-to-open Mt. Bethel Village residence for special needs adults.

Garafola testified on May 21 in favor of Assembly Bill A-2893, sponsored by Bergen County Democrat Valerie Vainieri Huttle, which requires the state Department of Human Services to "encourage the establishment of innovative service arrangements for persons with developmental disabilities."

While the bill does not call for any new funding, its intent is to, in Garafola's words, "look at more creative solutions" to housing adults with autism and developmental disabilities, many of whom currently live with aging parents who are desperately trying to find places for their adult children to live before they can no longer care for them.

Right now, moderate to high functioning adults have few living options-- either state-licensed group homes, of which there is a chronic shortage, living at home with their parents or other family members or, in emergencies, commitment to state institutions, arguably the last resort for those with no place else to go.

Garafola is executive director of , currently under construction on Mt. Bethel Road, which will offer housing and rich, 24-hour support services for 41 moderate to high functioning adults with autism, developmental disabilities or traumatic brain injuries. Mt. Bethel Village will be private pay, but Garafola thinks the state should look at it as a model for future partnerships between private companies and the government to fulfill an urgent need.

Further, she urged consideration of many other housing options including garden apartments, assisted living arrangements, shared rental of homes larger than four bedrooms and supervised dormitory apartments similar to college dorms.

Since September, 2011, Garafola testified she has met with more than 140 families with adult children in need of housing.

"The stories are hand-wringers and bring tears to my eyes," she told the Assembly Human Services Committee. "It clearly will help the families who lay awake at night wondering what will happen as they get older and their adult child needs a place to live."

Shortly after the hearing, the bill was approved by the committee and sent to the full Assembly where its future is uncertain.

"We need to look at the world through different glasses," said Garafola, "be creative and seek a private-state partnership in a slimmed down process that helps to advocate for our adults with developmental disabilities and not throw up hurdles."

More information about Mt. Bethel Village can be found at www.mtbethelvillage.com.

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