News and Articles

Group Homes Versus Living in the Community

Chester Finn
July 28, 2021

Chester Finn (he/him) is a 2021 Social Connectedness Fellow currently working with the Harvard Law School Project on Disability and Massachusetts Self-Advocates Standing Strong’s (MASS) Supported Decision-Making (SDM) Task Force. He has been a strong advocate for people with developmental disabilities for more than 20 years. He currently works as a Special Assistant to the Commissioner at the Office of Persons With Developmental Disabilities for the New York State. Chester grew up in western New York, attending school in Lockport and earning his associate degree from Gennessee Community College in Batavia. He is passionate about upholding the rights of people with disabilities everywhere. His goals are to leave things in a better place and be able to teach and mentor young people to be advocates for themselves and others.

When looking at group homes and community living, one can see there are key differences between the two living situations.  A group home is where an agency creates a living situation where they have multiple individuals living together, and such homes are supposed to be a home-like situation. Staff from the agency are in charge, and perform tasks such as providing transportation and taking the individuals to appointments and recreation. Living in the community, however, individuals are in charge of hiring staff to work for them, or contracting staff with an agency. Most states have self-directed services or some other form of support. A 2015 National Council on Disability report, The State of Housing in America in the 21st Century: A Disability Perspective, states that “Currently, about 35.1 million households have one or more people with a disability—nearly one-third of all U.S. households in 2007. In addition, about 1.6 million people live in nursing homes and another half-million in group homes.”  

For people in group homes, rights and access are limited due to the respective rules and regulations of provider agencies, as well as how such rules and regulations are interpreted.  Living at home, you have complete freedom unless you live in a certified apartment. The rules are a little different, but your rights don’t change. Group homes have supervisors and managers who report to directors, so there’s a top layer of rules and regulations that can prevent people from having the freedom they would have in their own apartments. For the most part, a resident in a group home would be set up in a community setting and not in an institutional one. We know that states have rules set up by legislators and regulations that are set up by offices such as DD Agencies. This complicates things, but that should not restrict the rights of the individual, which are guaranteed to everyone in the community. For example: I have my own apartment with my own rules. There are some rules and regulations that are in my lease, but everyone that lives in an apartment building has to follow those. What happens in my apartment is up to me by my rights and rules.  

As an advocate for people with disabilities, and as a self-advocate that advocates for their rights, I come in contact with people every day who are struggling in dealing with group homes, and with some apartments that are run by agencies. If you did a study and compared the rules and regulations to what happened in the day-to-day lives of the people living there, you would be able to see these differences starkly. I personally don’t know of any agency that has conducted such a comparison between living independently and the group home environment, but there should be. For the most part, it comes down to the fact that people should have the same freedoms and human rights. This is something people should think about, compare with each other, and hopefully, change rules and regulations

Now, let’s break the specifics of this situation down further. In a group home, the individuals live in a large building, in which they have what are known as Direct Support Professionals, and where staff take them out in vans. A person living in the community under self-direction, however, could hire a driver, take public transportation, or use their friends and relatives as a source of transport.  As you can see, provider agencies are different because it’s supposed to be someone’s home, but actually, it’s governed by the agency.  When you have your own apartment or supportive apartment, you follow the rules of your landlord, but they don’t govern how you run your day-to-day life, so there is more freedom and more responsibility for the individual in their own apartment. With the residents of a group home, the individual relies on the agency and the staff in that home. Group homes also mean that if there’s not enough relief workers, or if someone doesn’t come to work, the individual goes without.  

I think we need to do a lot of work to figure out what to do about group homes in order to better center the residents themselves, and their needs as individuals. 

In summary, we have a lot of work to do on both sides to make independence possible for individuals with disabilities to live a meaningful life, to feel respected, and above all, to truly feel a sense of belonging.