Parents told to leave disabled kids at homeless shelters

Zachary Roth
Mitch Daniels
Mitch Daniels

Parents in Indiana have reportedly been told by state workers to leave their severely disabled kids at homeless shelters if they can't afford to care for them, in what advocacy groups say is a horrifying example of how government budget cuts are hitting home for ordinary Americans.

Some parents testified at a state hearing this week that employees at the state Bureau of Developmental Disabilities Services gave them the harsh recommendation, according to the Associated Press.

The parents had sought guidance after they failed to receive scheduled Medicaid waivers that pay to support disabled children living independently.  GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels has made cuts to the budget of the Family and Social Services Administration, of which the bureau is a part.

"We are people and they are people," Becky Holladay -- whose 22-year-old son has epilepsy, autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder -- told legislators Tuesday.  "They have lives that are worth something."

The Family and Social Services Administration says that it's not the agency's policy to suggest homeless shelters as an alternative--and that workers who make any such recommendation will be disciplined.  Spokesman Marcus Barlow told The Upshot that budget cuts had not led to delays in the Medicaid waivers. "People aren't waiting longer for their waivers than they were five years ago," he said.

Still, advocates for the disabled say the waiting list for waivers grew to 20,000 names last month--and that 2,000 slots were recently eliminated.

They also say that despite Barlow's assurances to the contrary, suggestions to leave disabled kids at homeless shelters have been widespread.  "It is something we are hearing from all over the state, that families are being told this is an alternative for them," said Kim Dodson, an official with the Arc of Indiana.  "A homeless shelter would never be able to serve these people."

Advocacy groups also say that the state social services agency isn't alone in floating homeless shelters as a care option.

Daunna Minnich says that as funding for her 18-year-old daughter's residential treatment neared exhaustion, the private firm Damar Services told Minnich that if she didn't take her daughter Sabrina home, Damar would dump Sabrina at a homeless shelter.  Sabrina, who is bipolar, has attempted suicide and threatened her sister.

Damar executive Jim Dalton says his company would never leave a patient at a shelter and even has some residents whose funding has run out. But that's not sustainable, he said. "I don't think it's fair at all that a private service provider be where the buck stops — and that in many cases appears to be what is happening."

"We're talking about youth that absolutely require services," Dalton said. "And no one is willing to fund them anymore."

(Photo of Gov. Daniels in 2007, after delivering his State of the State address: AP/Tom Strattman)