Neighbors oppose group transitional home in Williamsburg

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (WAVY) – A home in Williamsburg that has recently applied for licensing to operate as a group home for patients with mental illness is being met with opposition by many residents and even a state senator.

The home is located on Woodmere Drive in the Woods community off Jamestown Road, in close proximity to the Walsingham Academy and other nearby schools.

“They have already told us that these people will be medicated, but that they’ll have freedom to be throughout the community,” said Ed Brandt, president of the Yorkshire Homeowners Association, which abuts the Woods community. “We’re worried about murder. We’re worried about injury, physical injury. These are the crimes, these are not misdemeanors.”

Brandt and others have been reaching out to local leaders for support. They have the backing of City Manager Marvin Collins.

“The city remains troubled by the potential and unnecessary risks associated with the location selected by Gateway. One incident involving a child is simply too great a risk,” City Manager Marvin Collins wrote in a letter to Jack Barber, Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, which licenses group homes such as the one in Williamsburg.

While the state licenses the facility, and the Hampton-Newport News Community Services Board is the financial arm of the facility, the group home would be operated by a non-profit called Gateway Homes.

Read: Full statement from HNNCSB

On its website, Gateway Homes says its mission is to help those who have left mental hospitals work toward independence. Gateway Homes has already applied for a license and pending the outcome an on-site inspection, will be approved.

In response to the letter written by Collins, Dev Nair with DBHDS wrote, “Group homes, such as the one being developed by Gateway, provide supports for private residents with disabilities to live in smaller residential settings and participate as active members of their community.”

10 On Your Side looked into who could live in that home.

According to Nari, Gateway Homes has a policy against against admitting sex offenders, or those who are found not guilty of sex crimes by reason of insanity. After a meeting with a Gateway representative, Ed Brandt tells he’s been informed up to eight patients will live in the home. Two staff members will be on site.

WAVY News tried several times to reach out to the executive director of Gateway Homes to try to better understand their admissions process. We have not yet heard back.

State Senator Tommy Norment, who represents James City Council sent a letter to the director of the Hampton-Newport News CSB. In it, he wrote he would “research” to see if “funding for these inappropriate located group homes can be constrained in the region.”

Today, 10 On Your Side asked Norment if he was threatening to decrease mental health funding if the home is not relocated. He spoke to us by phone, saying:

“What I would seek is to see if there are alternative approaches or if funds can be used in an alternative approach for a permanent group home to be sited in a community that might be a bit more receptive to their presence, that’s all. I would never try to cut off funding to these patients.”

The Virginia chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness emailed saying this is a case of not in my back yard “at its worst.”

“We were extremely disheartened and disappointed to learn about the attitudes towards the individuals who are in need of a place to live so that they can begin resuming normal lives. The reality is that 1 in 4 families deals with mental illness. These are our neighbors, our family members, and our co-workers. The individuals in question became sick, were treated, and no longer need to be hospitalized, and now they are well and need somewhere to live so they can be part of the community. As a lawmaker, Senator Norment should not be agitating the situation and stirring up fears. Unfortunately what is happening is NIMBY-ism (Not In My Back Yard) at its worst. We truly hope the situation resolves soon and the individuals will be able to move in soon and resume their lives,” the organization’s full comment said.

Brandt responded, saying:

“We have never once said ‘we don’t want a home like that in our community.’ That’s nothing but the ‘class card’ that class mongers throw up there because they have nothing else to say,” said Brandt. “The issue is this is an inappropriate place. It’s not an inappropriate home, but it’s an inappropriate place for this.”

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