Referring disabled people to homeless shelters

More human consequences of the state budget crisis

This is what families are dealing with because of the state budget crisis.

Ken Kusmer of Associated Press has an amazing story noting that some workers at Indiana’s Bureau of Developmental Disabilities Services are telling parents that they might leave a disabled child at a homeless shelter if they can no longer care for the child at home, and if the family hasn’t received Medicaid waivers for alternative services.

It’s unclear how widespread this practice actually is. I can certainly understand where this is coming from. Waiting lists have reached 20,000. Meanwhile, the ARC reports that since July, Indiana has eliminated 2,000 Medicaid waiver slots due to budget cuts.

Such cuts pose a particular problem for individuals who “age out” of services. For example:

Daunna Minnich of Bloomington said Indiana Department of Education funding for residential treatment for her 18-year-old daughter, Sabrina, is due to run out Sunday.

Officials at Damar Services Inc. of Indianapolis have told Minnich that unless she takes Sabrina home to Bloomington, the agency will take her to a homeless shelter.

Minnich said Sabrina, who’s bipolar and has anxiety attacks, has attempted suicide, run away during home visits and threatened her older sister. She said bringing Sabrina home isn’t a viable option, and the two group home placements that BDDS offered weren’t appropriate for Sabrina’s needs.

If things were a bit different, I could see my family in a similar situation. When my brother-in-law was living with us, I once drove him and my young daughters to pick up a friend. Cruising down Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, I spoke sharply to one of my daughters, whom Vincent adores. We argued, and he slapped me while I was driving. It hurt, and it was scary. I pulled into a parking lot in the pouring rain. He and my daughter were sobbing. I remember thinking: I just don’t know how much longer I can really do this. Fortunately, we never had another incident remotely like that ever again. I can imagine families being pushed past the breaking point, summoning the courage to ask for help–only to be told to deposit their loved-one at a homeless shelter.

In part, press stories such as this one reflect the frustration of state workers and service providers, who cannot effectively respond to many families who need help. These stories also reflect the reality that intellectual disability services are getting hammered across the country in the current budget crisis. Intellectual disability services are labor-intensive, costly, and complex. They are not entitlements. Depending on the local politics, they are often more vulnerable than other big-ticket items such as corrections, state universities, or K-12 education.

States can also be very poor customers to the for-profit and non-profit providers who do much of the work. States deny claims for appropriate services, pay too little or too late for services people are entitled to receive. These practices amount to a large and painful, but implicit budget cut which is often invisible to the taxpaying public and to the voters. Illinois is probably the worst culprit. It is not the only one.

In a time of 9.6 percent unemployment, services to the intellectually disabled could offer worthy employment for thousands of people, while providing crucial help to stressed families. Sadly, our political system lacks the organization and the resources at the right levels of government to maintain even the current service levels. I doubt Tuesday’s election will make things better.

Postscript: For more see Dana Goldstein.