Not On My Street

CBS News 60 Minutes: A home in a suburban neighborhood is not exactly what this family envisioned when they made their purchase.

Not on My Street is a story about some Americans who bought a home in the suburbs only to find the neighborhood turned out to be not exactly what they thought it was going to be. This is Tamara Drive in the Detroit suburb of Novi. Houses here go for $70,000 and up. And if any neighborhood is typical, this one is. Even to the school bus coming down the street.

Good morning, Dennis.

I want to be a cop.

What?

I'm gonna be a cop.

You're going to be a cop?

Yeah. How are you doing today?

Okay.

In one of those houses on Tamara Drive are not exactly the kind of people you would expect to find here. These men are mentally retarded. Five of them live in this house purchased by them for the state. Before they moved here, they were in institutions, but mental health experts, including those here in Michigan, think a group home is a better place for them to live in than in an institution.

Hello.

How are you?

Good morning. I'm Dan Rather.

[Inaudible]

Nice to see you.

How do you do?

This is Bill.

Hi. How are you? Nice to see you.

Good. How are you?

Good morning.

And this is Dennis.

Hi. How do you do?

Okay.

How are you this morning? Okay.

The house is staffed 24 hours a day, mostly by young people working staggered shifts.

You want to hear the headphones? Okay, here.

Okay? Now can you hear me over the headphones.

Yeah. You see how it works. That what he's supposed to...

Careful now. It might bang your ears a little bit.

Can you count for us? One...

One, two, three.

You see? You can hear yourself, huh.

[Laughs] Yeah.

Four. That's it.

[Laughs]

During most of the day, the residents leave the home. Three go to school and two to a job training program. It's hoped they will all become increasingly independent, perhaps one day able to perform unskilled labor and get paid for it. Back home, they help prepare their own meals, try to live like a family, and try even harder to be like everyone else.

How about if we talk about our outing tomorrow?

Hey, yeah. On the airplane!

Yeah. Where are we going to go, Dennis?

[Inaudible]

The airport. Yeah

Who's going to go to the airport with you?

Me. Me and you.

That's right. You and I are going to going to go.

Just you two alone? Yup.

Oh, good. That's nice.

Most of the people on the block don't want the home here, especially not the families living right next door and across the street.

I am under the understanding that they can turn violent at any given time. And when...when are they going to and when aren't they going to? Why do we have to keep one eye over here and just be very concerned? Their actions are different than a normal person. They sound different. It's not... You cannot understand the sounds that they make. And it's frightening to a child.

There still is an Alfred Hitch...Hitchcock kind of image of what retarded... what retarded people are. You know, some people think they're going to jump out of trees on their women.

Jerry Provinsal is Director of Michigan's most ambitious community placement program.

We have to get out to those folks and give them the proper information so they don't believe that any more. And although I'm being a bit glib, frankly, those misconceptions, that misinformation is really... runs rampant through a community. And I think that the... they begin to believe the worst is going to happen, rather the best might happen.

Have you seen some improvement in...in them?

Oh, yes. Yes. Such as what?

Well, John... When John first came here, he would sit and rock. And he wouldn't talk to us. I mean, I knew he could talk, but he would never talk. He's a very social person now. He loves to come up behind you and say, "Boo!" and get a reaction out of you. He loves to play checkers. He's just grown a lot.

The Novi home social worker is Becky Blystone.

Here's Bill. Yep.

When Bill first came, he had some problems with his temper.

Didn't you?

Uh-huh.

Yeah. Bill would... When Bill gets frustrated, he doesn't know how to deal with it appropriately, and he will lash out and just be real angry. And Bill has a program to learn to control his temper. Bill has a punching bag in the garage and when he gets angry, we say, you know, "Bill what can you do besides hit people when you're angry?" He goes out and he will hit his punching bag.

Michael had a lot more intense behaviors when he first came. He would stand at a wall and butt his butt into it until it...the wall would break. He has calmed down so much. The frequency of those behaviors has just dropped dramatically. He hasn't done anything destructive, I'd say, in the last three to four weeks.

What about their rights as citizens? I mean, just because they groan or moan or make sounds, you wouldn't argue that they don't have a right to live like anyone else?

They're not like anyone else. And normal families in a normal situation would have maybe one or two of these type of people, but five or six, it's no longer a normal circumstance.

Would you call that prejudice?

I don't want to be. I don't feel I am, but but maybe other people would say I probably am. But I...I don't want to be and I don't... I try not to be.

These neighbors helped instigate a state inquiry of the home. The investigator reported no physical threats by residents against neighbors, but did report that one resident sometimes yelled from the window at passers-by and that Michael had assaulted staff members on ten occasions in less than a month.

The neighbors resistance, based on concerns both real and imagined, is making it difficult to achieve the basic goals of community placement.

We've been told by some of the neighbor that if our clients step foot on their property that they will be arrested.

Home manager, Mike Lunday.

Our clients have been kind of restricted into... to staying just in the backyard. It's really a shame because they can't be considered to be independent if they have to be watched 24 hours a day, not, you know, in a constant situation like this where they have to be, you know touched and held and talked to. They need to be independent. That's the whole basis of our group home.

There are about 62,000 mentally retarded people living in group homes in the United States. The homes cost taxpayers about the same as institutions. Supporters of group homes emphasize that mental retardation is not the same as mental illness. That mentally retarded people may look frightening at first but, in fact, pose no greater threat of violence than anyone else. Sympathizers also claim that group homes are accepted by communities, if not right away, probably after a half year or so.

Opponents dispute this, alleging that many mentally retarded people are also mentally ill and that some group homes are never fully accepted. But there is no dispute that the old style institutions do not work.

As this film made in a Montana institution reveals, many were snake pits. Some remain hideous. Even under the best of circumstances, and that's rare, patients do not get better and often get worse. That is why judges are trying to close the worst of them.

No one can grow and develop in an institution. You can only deteriorate. They cannot get better.

Jenny Roby's son was in a Michigan institution.

Was he ever physically abused?

Oh, yes. I have ... strapped...

He'd... He'd... I'd come and eyes were blackened.

"What happened?"

"He fell down." Nonsense. Nonsense.

Mrs. Roby, is there a clear difference in the way your son acted in institutions and his current behavior?

Oh, it's a dramatic change.

It's a dramatic change.

My son at the age of 24 entered a school bus for the first time. And he went for the first time in his life to a real school, with qualified staff, with professionals who sat around at a table and said, "Now, how am I going to make a program that's going to help Mark Roby?" He has access to resources. You see, that's the whole key to community placement. He's got access to all the talent, the physical resources, the human resources that were always cut off to him. He is being treated like a person of value, like a person of worth, and he's responding to that.

But some communities respond to group homes with violence. Some homes have been shot at. Others burned down.

This is Gibraltar, Michigan, about an hour's drive from where the five men are living in Novi. Shortly after word got around the neighborhood that the state had bought this house for mentally retarded women but before the women had moved in, all the windows were smashed.

After a group home is purchased but before the residents move in, Michigan officials try to convince people not to worry. In Gibraltar, the neighbors called their own meeting to express their opposition.

We would never have moved into the community or built our home had we known that, in fact, this home was coming. I'm just scared for my children and my wife. You know, I go out. I go out of town, they're home alone. If the state is coming in and forcing people to live in an environment that is contrary to their best behalf. The neighborhood has not accepted the concept of them coming in. Nothing is in our community. Nobody wants them.

Will they be accepted?

Despite the protests, plans for the group home went ahead, and three months later, the first two mentally retarded women got ready to move from their institution to their new home. Naomi Davis is 50 years old and has spent 38 of those years in institutions. She used to cause problems, sometimes hitting staff members. She's controlled that and now only occasionally yells at them.

Evelyn Bena, also 50, She is not boisterous like Miss Davis. Instead, she is a loner, often sitting by herself or walking in circles, talking to no one. It's hoped that home living will keep her stimulated. The attitude of Gibraltar residents was still hostile when the women arrived. State officials hope the anxiety will disappear after the home has been operating routinely for a while.

And the house next door, put up for sale months earlier for reasons having nothing to do with the group home coming in, had not been yet been sold. The owners blame the group home for scaring off buyers.

If I were to duplicate or replicate my house in another area without a foster care facility next door, my question is, which of those two homes would someone buy, that home or my home? I suspect that there's a good percentage of of ready, willing, and able buyers out there who will pick the other home.

Studies conclude that group homes do not devalue neighborhood property values unless neighbors panic. Maybe the Detroit recession is scaring off buyers. Or maybe the studies are wrong. Or maybe the neighbors have panicked.

What do you make of those decent, hardworking, taxpaying people who say, "I have nothing against mentally retarded people, but not on my block"?

We had the same kind of mentality that was expressed and upheld for a long time when... in neighborhoods where Jews were disallowed and where blacks were disallowed and where Italians were disallowed.

Yes, there's a tranquillity, I suppose, in a neighborhood where you can select who your neighbor is or at least select who it will not be; however, I don't know that we're really... I don't know that we really have a right to that kind of... that kind of choice and that kind of discrimination.

How do you feel about this question? That as one goes through life, one doesn't always get the ideal neighbors. That sometimes you have a young man who lives next door who has a motorcycle, who plays rock music loudly. Now I'm sure that doesn't happen in this neighborhood. Now I'm sure that doesn't happen in this neighborhood. And it happens in so many neighborhoods.

We have that but we accept that. That's... Do I say normal? [Laughs]

That's something you can expect in any neighborhood, but in this situation, we can never expect that to go away. These people will never grow up; therefore, that condition will always be here. In a normal neighborhood where you have a bad neighbor move in, you can always look forward to them moving away. We can't. These people are here forever, as far as we know. They may rotate the people that are there, but there will still be six, five or six mentally retarded people.

I've been alive forever.

Some of the immediate neighbors are keeping up pressure to try to close the Novi home. Meanwhile, life here remains pretty much the same, except for some staff changes, and the men appear to be improving, except for Michael. He was too disruptive and could not make the transition and he is back in an institution.

I write the songs that make the whole world sing.
I write the songs of love and special things.
I write the songs that make the young girls cry.
I write the songs, I write the songs.

Since we filmed that story, Dennis, the young man who wanted to be a cop and was excited about his visit to an airport was also sent back to an institution. He reported he was becoming too nervous and high strung. Authorities says the cases of Dennis and Michael are not typical. Had there not been hostility and tension on the neighborhood, both men, they say would probably have made it.