Sen. Darneille concerned about City of Lakewood’s actions on adult family homes

During a Joint Aging and Disability Legislative Executive Committee work session, Senator Jeannie Darneille raised concerns over the City of Lakewood’s recent actions on adult family homes.

In April, the City of Lakewood passed an ordinance scheduled to go into effect on May 19th amending the municipal code to state “Adult Family Homes shall serve those with functional limitations and are not intended to serve those with a history of violence, including sex offenses.” The ordinance also prohibits adult family homes from being converted to an enhanced services facility, which serve higher acuity patients.

The City of Lakewood is now considering a moratorium on the filing of applications for licenses, permits and approvals for adult family home, group home, enhanced service facility or comparable business in residential zones for a period of six months.

“This issue about the City of Lakewood and the citing of adult family homes, restrictions on the care needs of people that are needing that particular option of long-term care. I’m shocked every time it comes up because these cities and counties will always lose the cases that have to be waged against them for this level of discrimination,” said Senator Darneille. “And I can understand the difference between having someone released from a mental health hospital or the special commitment center let’s say, or one of the other facilities that are state managed into communities. But the fact remains that we can do more to educate communities about the fact that does not equate to continued risk in the community for the necessary services that these folks should and could be eligible for.”

When asked by co-chair Rep. Steve Tharinger if this was a land use or zoning issue, Senator Darneille argued it was a civil rights issue.

“It’s not a zoning issue, it’s a civil rights issue. The way the laws are written…all you have to do is replace the word ‘aging’ or ‘disabled’ with ‘race’, ‘creed’, ‘ethnicity’, it’s right up there, it’s the same statute and we have both federal and state restrictions on impeding that civil liberty. I don’t know what we need to do to deter communities from engaging in this kind of conversation about restricting the elements of our long-term care system in the State of Washington from existing in local communities, but I really think maybe it’s worth engaging David Lord.”

David Lord, the Director of Public Policy at Disability Rights Washington, is also a member of the Joint Aging and Disability Legislative Executive Committee and responded to Senator Darneille’s comments during the meeting.

“I think that would be a really fruitful discussion for us to have. And I think that understanding a bit more about the people that are living, a lot of aging people, a lot of people with disabilities, they’re living in our institutions… One example I can think of is that we have a lot of people, hundreds of people who are living in our state prisons who are now no longer at much risk at all of recidivism, but they’re living there now in prisons, costing us a lot of money and then also like I said not posing a risk.”

The Lakewood City Council discussed the proposed ordinance at a meeting in May 7th.  According to the meeting materials:

“The City has compared the number of Adult Family Home businesses located throughout Pierce County to those located within the City and as of November 2017, there were 255 Adult Family Homes located within Pierce County. As of November 2017, there were 73 Adult Family Home businesses located within the City with a total of 426 beds. Of the 73 Adult Family Home businesses located within the City, 36 of the businesses are located in the Oakbrook neighborhood of the city. While the City of Lakewood is one of 23 cities within Pierce County, 31 percent of Adult Family Home businesses are located within the City of Lakewood. Stated another way, while the population of the City is roughly 6 percent of the total County population, the City has 31 percent of the Adult Family Home business, most of which are located next to the State’s largest mental health facility [Western State Hospital], which is also within the City’s jurisdictional boundaries.

In addition, the City has received information that state agencies and others have placed people with violent and/or predatory behavior into group homes, including Adult Family Home businesses, and the City wants and needs time to investigate this information before any more of these homes are added or expanded.”

The ordinance lists examples of patients being discharged from Western State Hospital into the community.

WHEREAS, in September 2017, the State Department of Social and Health Services attempted to release a diagnosed psychotic killer with likelihood of re-offense into one of the Adult Family Home businesses within the residential neighborhood that is adjacent to Western State Hospital; and

WHEREAS, efforts by the City to determine what type and how many individuals are being “discharged” into Adult Family Home businesses in residential neighborhoods in the City have been generally unsuccessful; and

 WHEREAS, the information the City has received, through public record and public testimony, identifies one such Adult Family Home businesses as housing four registered sex offenders with two remaining beds to fill, suggests that DSHS routinely “discharges” individuals into Adult Family Home businesses in the City of Lakewood, and that little distinction is drawn between the type of individual suited for Adult Family Home businesses placement and those who pose actual danger to caregivers and other residents

The ordinance establishing the moratorium has not yet passed, and the council will continue their discussion on the ordinance at a meeting scheduled for May 21st .

The Adult Family Home Council of Washington State is already preparing legal action should the ordinance pass. In a newsletter to members, Executive Director John Ficker writes:

“The city of Lakewood, Washington has moved ahead with a moratorium on issuing adult family home business licenses. We believe this action is not allowed under state law. Further we believe this action is being taken out of ignorance of the facts. The City Council has stated they are concerned about dangerous sex offenders and the mentally ill living in residential neighborhoods around their city. Further they doubt the capacity of providers and DSHS to make appropriate decisions about placement. We will attend a public hearing on Monday, May 21, 2018. It is likely the hearing will not persuade the city to back off from its current actions. We are working with legal advocates and the state to prepare a legal action to push back against the city’s decisions. Obviously this has a huge impact on the providers in Lakewood, but has far reaching implication if other jurisdictions decide to follow suit. We cannot let this stand.”