Ardenwald-Johnson Creek neighbors tour new “Balfour House” treatment facility

By David F. Ashton

Building a new eight-bed secure residential treatment facility on the southern edge their neighborhood had worried folks in the Ardenwald-Johnson Creek neighborhood area ever since the plans were announced more than a year ago.

That unease didn’t slow or stop the project — and now, the “Johnson Creek Secure Residential Treatment Facility” at 2808 S.E. Balfour Street is about to begin operation.

On October 8th, ColumbiaCare Services, a non-profit company that provides mental health and residential services for citizens of Oregon and Idaho, held an open house at the new facility which many neighbors call the “Balfour House”.

“We’re providing a comfortable residence and rehabilitation services, as well as medication services for people who have serious mental illness, and who in the past have committed serious crimes,” explained Andrew Axer, Facility Administrator, at the event.

Specifically, we learned, the Oregon Psychiatric Security Review Board (PSRB) refers to such individuals as those “with mental illness who have committed a crime and have been found ‘guilty except for insanity’.”

“The clients who come here generally have spent quite a long time in the hospital, receiving treatment,” Axer explained. “Before they can come to a facility like ours, they need to demonstrate that they are stable. They have to be able to be trusted by the PSRB — which is primarily interested in protecting public safety. When they meet the board’s requirement for discharge, they receive what is called ‘Conditional Release’.”

Axer compared this to parole in the criminal justice system. “They come here under the very stringent expectations of the PSRB. They need to attend a certain number of groups, participate in individual and group counseling, take medications, and subject themselves to urine analysis tests. They are subject to room searches. They cannot leave the house without staff supervision. If they leave the house, they have to be carefully assessed for the risk — whatever risks we might consider relevant to this client.”

Asked if he thought the facility was a security risk for the neighborhood, the fear which had made the facility controversial locally, Axer responded, “No, I don’t think that it will cause any safety issues. Of course, there is a perception that makes people very uncomfortable — that people at this house have committed serious felonies. But, they were mentally unstable at the time.”

Axer elaborated, “I would say that people have their reasons to be concerned, as long as they really don’t know who is living in their neighborhood. Once they get to know each other, I think some of the concerned will decrease. I think the neighbors have also been concerned about the size of the house, here in a predominantly residential neighborhood. But our main task is not to be a nuisance to the community; but instead to be a good neighbor.”

Pointing to the ten-page “Good Neighbor Agreement” — with a six page appendix — to which the facility’s management, the neighborhood association leadership, and local law enforcement agencies had signed off, Axer added, “We have every intention of following both the spirit and the letter of the agreement.”

The facility’s Assistant Administrator, Michael Donohue, said its clients will be under 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week supervision. “There are least two employees here on-site at all times.”

State Representative Carolyn Tomei was one of the dignitaries who came by to visit the facility. “I think this could be a beautiful addition to the neighborhood. Some of the neighbors are concerned. But, I think when people see it in operation, their fears will be allayed.”

“I think the facility is absolutely wonderful,” commented Jo Hamilton who said she lives a half block away, after touring the house. “It feels calming and open; it’s a very nice atmosphere. My concern is that I don’t know a lot about who the patients are. But I’m okay and I will be okay.”

The City of Milwaukie’s Police Chief, Bob Jordan, said he thought that the Good Neighbor Agreement addresses many of the community’s concerns. “I look forward to thier having a nice, quiet presence here.”

Not all visitors were as sanguine. Tracey Moist said her family lives “very near” the facility, and she said she still has some concerns. “I have four young children. I keep being told the residents here are fine. I want to have faith in them, but I’m still scared. We are doing everything we can to protect ourselves and our family.”

The security at their home has been strengthened, she reported — putting extra locks on the windows, for example. “This is the first neighborhood that I’ve lived in where, until now, I’ve felt safe and free. I’m wondering why they would want to put a place like this in neighborhood with 80 kids, near a school. I don’t say this to be rude. I know these people have to have a place to go.”

Having met the staff and toured facility, Moist said it’s helped her “relax a little bit. But, that doesn’t mean I’ve changed my feelings on this. I’m still worried.”

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Mental health success story

Mental health success story
One man shares his experience in the system

By Matthew Graham

The Clackamas Review, Oct 14, 2008, Updated 6.8 hours ago

With Ardenwald residents incensed over a proposed secure mental health facility in their neighborhood, we spoke with someone who’d been through the state’s mental health system and with the Psychiatric Security Review Board’s director to get an inside perspective on the facilities, their patients and how the system really works.

For seven years he thought someone was following him, trying to kill him. He thought his shoes, his shirt buttons and one of his teeth were bugged and that satellites were watching him.

Matthew Goss had been hit by a truck, causing “major head trauma,” and was suffering from extreme paranoia. He was devoutly religious and, after seven years of looking over his shoulder, decided he’d rather die and be with his lord than continue living under such duress.

“I was on a mission to die without actually pulling the trigger,” Goss said. “I decided if they’re having such a hard time killing me on the outside, I’ll go to prison where they can hire a person on the inside to kill me. So I robbed two banks, I told the ladies at the banks my license plate number and said I’d be at the First Round having a beer and that’s where the police got me, and that was the beginning of my recovery.”

Goss was sent to Sheridan Federal Penitentiary, but after realizing no one was going to kill him, he went to the prison’s doctor and told him his story.

“He said, ‘well here, take this med for your anxiety,’ so I took that med, and within a short time my mind started clearing up,” Goss said. “It was a miracle in my life. I started thinking rationally.”

Goss told his public defender about his head injury and mental problems and changed his plea to guilty except for insanity. He was transferred to the Oregon State Psychiatric Hospital.

“It was a time of healing,” he said of his 19-month stay there. “I built good relationships there with my treatment team and other patients, I got along well, I got a job.”

From there he was sent to a foster home, still under the Psychiatric Security Review Board’s (PSRB) purview, where he lived with other patients with mental disorders in a supervised setting.

“There was a 24-hour staff there,” he said. “There was a board that we had to sign in and out on, telling where we would be and at what time we would return. There was a lot of oversight.”

But Goss said the slightest slip-up could land a patient back in the hospital.

“Another guy got released from the Oregon State Psychiatric Hospital and he didn’t show up back at the house one night and the next day the cops came and arrested him and sent him back to the hospital,” Goss said. “That’s how strict they are. The PSRB does not screw around with anybody. They take this business very seriously.”

As Goss progressed from the state hospital to the foster home to eventually his own apartment at Chez Ami, a Clackamas apartment complex for the mentally ill, he gradually reintegrated into a normal life. He got a job doing landscaping and janitorial work, finally getting his herbicide, insecticide and fungicide license. He saved for a car and is driving again.

Goss said the state psychiatric system has helped him learn to live with his condition.

“A lot of people have a lot more active or persistent mental illness than I do, but I got on to a medical miracle drug that changed my life and I knew that I wanted to regain some of the respect that I’d lost in my family and my society, and so I was determined to become a different person,” he said.

He’s still working toward that, and it hasn’t been an easy path for him.

“When I got released I was frustrated because I couldn’t be as productive as I wanted to be, I was frustrated because I couldn’t drive, I knew that I had certain abilities and I wanted to reach my full potential,” he said. “Then I learned to live with those constraints, took it one day at a time. One day when the next door opens I’ll walk through it.”

Reviewing patients

For patients seeking conditional release from the state hospital to one of the residential facilities, there are four levels of review, said PSRB Executive Director Mary Claire Buckley. The state hospital has an internal review board comprised of psychologists, social workers, clinical directors and hospital administrators. If that board approves the conditional release, then Clackamas County Mental Health, the provider – in this case Columbia Care Services, Inc. – and finally the PSRB get to review the case.

Each of those boards and institutions has the right to refuse any given patient or, if they accept the patient, to set conditions on the release.

“The board wouldn’t even get to consider it if one of those said no,” Buckley said. “We’re not going to force a client on any community. That’s the beauty of the PSRB, that’s why it was designed. It used to be that the hospital staff decided.”

By law, a person found guilty except for insanity can’t be held in the state hospital system longer than the time they would have been sentenced had they not plead insanity. But if the hospital staff believes a person is unfit to leave the system at the end of that time period, the state can have that person civilly committed. The state then reviews that case every six months and can continue the commitment indefinitely.

But Buckley said most of the patients have no reason to stay in the hospital once they get proper treatment.

“These people aren’t by nature criminals, they aren’t by nature anti-social,” she said. “Most of our clients have a major mental illness that, because it was active at some point, resulted in these major crimes … The fundamental premise is that they committed their crime while their illness was active and if we have that under control,” they should be released.

Need exists for fair housing laws

Need exists for fair housing laws

Milwaukie case reveals why federal legislation is necessary to support the disabled
Posted: 04:00 AM PDT Thursday, October 9, 2008
BY EDWARD SULLIVAN AND CARRIE RICHTER

Recent events in Milwaukie demonstrate both the need, and the effect, of federal legislation prohibiting discrimination in the provision of housing to the disabled. The Clackamas County Commissioners agreed to provide funds to secure an option to purchase a house on Southeast Balfour Street in Milwaukie. Columbia Care Services, Inc., a for-profit agency hoped to use the house to provide 15 beds with 24-hour supervision for mental health patients under contract with the State of Oregon.

However, activists in the Ardenwald-Johnson Creek neighborhood in Milwaukie had other ideas. The option to purchase the property lapsed briefly last November and, before it could be renewed, the City of Milwaukie, acting at the urging of these activists, bought the property to prevent its use as a group home. In particular, these activists were concerned that a number of the future residents of the home were under the supervision of the Psychiatric Security Review Board, having been adjudicated “not guilty by reason of insanity.” The focus of the concerns was on the underlying act, rather than the “not guilty” verdict.

Columbia Care didn’t accept that result. Instead, it sued the City of Milwaukie in federal district court in Portland, alleging violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act. Columbia Care alleged its future residents were “disabled” under both federal acts. Both acts prohibit discrimination in the provision of housing to the disabled, a category that includes those recovering from mental illness and alcohol or drug dependency. However, both acts exclude the disabled who are current users of illegal drugs or alcohol or who present a “direct threat” to the community. The point of both acts was to prevent the use of stereotypes of the mentally ill from keeping them from securing housing. Oregon has similar laws to prevent discrimination in housing for the disabled and, more specifically, against group homes for the disabled.

Adding to the problem is a federal court order requiring the State of Oregon to transition patients who no longer require close supervision out of state institutions and back into the community. The constitution and laws of Oregon provide that people will be free of unnecessary restrictions on liberty. According to experts, the best way to make that transition is through the “halfway house” method provided by group homes. Residency in a mental hospital, particularly for those who were confined there in lieu of incarceration for what would otherwise be a crime, raises fears for those in areas near group homes. Nevertheless, advocates for the mentally ill stress that nearly all will be released one day and that the structured environment of a group home presents the best chance for success for both the resident and the community. Without group homes, the chances of reinstitutionalization (for example, failing to take medicine or returning to addictive behavior) are markedly increased.

As it is, PSRB has a 2 percent rate of re-offense, due to its conservative screening program.
Both the FHA and ADA provide some fairly clear law on what constitutes “making housing unavailable” to the disabled. The City must have agreed, as it submitted an “Offer of Judgment” to Columbia Care requiring it to sell it the property for the price the City paid for it and enjoining it from placing conditions on the use that it would not have imposed on any other developer. It is likely that the group home will now open in Milwaukie.

In addition to non-discrimination laws that largely reflect the ADA and FHA, Oregon also has effectively modified the definition of “family” for purposes of single and multifamily zones in the state. Five or fewer unrelated persons in a qualified group home, plus staff, are permitted in a single-family zone residence, while six to 15 unrelated persons in a qualified group home, plus staff, are allowed in a multifamily residence. Assuming the Ardenwald-Johnson Creek home were licensed by the State and were within these limits, there is no local land use review of the dwelling, and thus no opportunity to deny it. That may be the real source of concern for the neighbors, but both state and federal law require this outcome.

Edward J. Sullivan has specialized in land-use law for more than 35 years. He is an owner in the Portland office of Garvey Schubert Barer and is the immediate past chairman of the State and Local Government Law Section of the American Bar Association. Contact him at esullivan@gsblaw.com or 503-228-3939.

Carrie A. Richter specializes in land-use law and municipal law in the Portland office of Garvey Schubert Barer. She is treasurer of the Planning and Law Division of the American Planning Association. Contact her at crichter@gsblaw.com or 503-228-3939.