Group home for mentally ill announced in Corvallis

Group home for mentally ill announced
By BENNETT HALL
Gazette-Times reporter

Residence in Northwest Corvallis to house up to 5 people

A private social services provider plans to operate a group home for mental patients.
Benton County
Shangri-La Corp. closed on the property April 10. The Salem-based nonprofit did not immediately disclose the location to allow time to contact the neighbors. Notification was to begin Tuesday.

“I want to contact them personally,” Shangri-La Corp. CEO Jan Kral told the Gazette-Times last week. “They’re the people who are most interested and most affected.”

The 1,700-square-foot house is in a residential neighborhood between Northwest Satinwood Street and Highland Drive, a few blocks north of Walnut Boulevard.

Shangri-La will own the house but will operate it under a contract with Benton County. The house will serve as a residence for up to five patients at a time who have been discharged from the Oregon State Hospital and are transitioning back into the community. The residents will be primarily from Benton County, Kral said.

The people living in the house will be allowed to come and go freely but will be closely supervised, Kral said in a previous interview. There will be at least one staff member on duty at all times, including nights and weekends.

Unlike so-called “secure” facilities, the Chipmunk Place house is not intended as a locked dormitory for potentially high-risk patients who have been judged guilty of a crime except for insanity and are under the jurisdiction of the state Psychiatric Security Review Board.

However, Benton County Health Department Administrator Mitch Anderson has refused to rule out the possibility that some PSRB patients could be placed there if the board and the county agree they pose no threat to the community.

Shangri-La operates a nonsecure group home for civilly committed mental patients in Albany. It was initially intended to be a locked facility for PSRB patients, but that plan was scrapped in the face of fierce community opposition.

Corvallis already has one group home for people with mental health issues, the Janus House on Southwest Fifth Street. The transitional housing program is operated by the nonprofit Benton County Mental Health Association.

Kral said she planned to organize a public meeting soon to address community concerns about the facility. No opening date has been set for the group home.

Even if neighbors object, however, there’s probably no legal mechanism for blocking the facility. Because the home would be limited to five residents, it wouldn’t come under any local zoning restrictions, and the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination against people with mental illness.

Virgil Wilson, co-president of the mid-valley chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said the group home will fill an important niche in Corvallis.

“We do not have enough housing for mentally ill folks, particularly people transitioning out of the state hospital,” Wilson said. “We have people being held in the state hospital for lack of places to send them.”

Shangri-La paid $300,000 for the Chipmunk Place house, according to a deed filed in the county recorder’s office.

The purchase was partially underwritten by the state, which holds a $150,000 mortgage on the property. If Shangri-La operates it as a group home for the 30-year term of the loan, the company won’t have to pay the money back, Kral said.

She added that the group home should provide something of an economic boost for the area. Although Shangri-La will be paid for its services by the county, Kral said the money comes in the form of “pass-through” funding from the state with matching Medicaid dollars from the federal government.

“This is new money coming either from the federal government or the state to Benton County that will result in somewhere between seven and nine new jobs,” Kral said.

“And it will create a household that will be buying groceries in the community and buying services in the community and helping the economy.”

Bennett Hall can be reached at 758-9529 or bennett.hall@lee.net.

Link: http://www.gazettetimes.com/articles/2009/04/22/news/community/5aaa02_home042209.txt

Officials: Group home won’t bring dangerous criminals

Officials: Group home won’t bring dangerous criminals
By BENNETT HALL
Gazette-Times reporter

A mental health group home planned for Corvallis will not become a dumping ground for dangerous criminals, officials involved in the project told local residents at a town hall meeting Tuesday night.

“There’s a big difference between developing a secure residential home -. and what we’re developing, which is a nonsecure home,” said Mitch Anderson, administrator of the Benton County Health Department.

More than 40 people attended the public meeting at Grace Lutheran Church, which was moderated by state Rep. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis.

The county is working with Shangri-La Corp., a Salem-based nonprofit, to acquire property for the residential treatment facility.

Anderson said the group home would be used primarily as transitional housing for Benton County residents returning to the community after a civil commitment to the Oregon State Hospital or other mental health institution.

But, as he has done before, Anderson refused to rule out the possibility that the home could be used to house individuals who had been committed through the criminal courts and were under the jurisdiction of the state Psychiatric Security Review Board.

The PSRB, Anderson said, does a good job of evaluating patients before release to ensure they’re ready to be discharged, and it monitors them closely afterwards.

“Community safety is a piece of that,” he said.

Jan Kral, Shangri-La’s executive director, said the facility would be staffed around the clock with highly trained personnel.

“I know what you’re asking is in the hearts of a lot of people,” she said in response to a question about patients under PSRB jurisdiction. “Generally speaking, it’s not going to be an exodus of those sorts of people.”

Shangri-La operates a nonsecure group home for civilly committed mental patients in Albany. It was initially intended to be a locked facility for PSRB patients, but that plan was scrapped in the face of fierce community opposition.

Now that the facility has been open for a while, Kral said, it has generally cordial relations with neighbors.

“They saw that the promises we made, we kept,” she said.

Kral repeated an earlier promise to have additional discussions with neighbors after Shangri-La completes the purchase of a house in Corvallis.

“Once we close on a home, we send out a notice to everyone in the area,” she said. “We host a meeting.”

That notice could go out in the next month or so. Kral said after the meeting that Shangri-La expects to close on a house for the Corvallis facility in three to four weeks.

Bennett Hall can be reached at 758-9529 or bennett.hall@lee.net.