A Ministry of Neglect

State Shuts Down Adult Home Run by Reverend Clarence Norman Sr.

"I said to him, 'I don't want to take you to court, but you all are robbing me. We need better treatment,' " Taylor said. She said Norman voiced sympathy but said he lacked funds to carry out major improvements.

Shortly after the meeting, Taylor and other residents contacted MFY Legal Services, a Manhattan organization that assists low-income New Yorkers. Attorneys visited the site and were shocked at what they found.

"There were pieces falling from the ceiling," said attorney Lisa Green. "There was no security, roaches and mice running rampant. Bathrooms were disgusting, such that no human being should have to live with."

"We considered this insitution to have some of the worst environmental conditions we've seen," said Jeanette Zelhof, MFY's managing attorney.

MFY filed suit in late 1998 on behalf of Taylor and five other residents. A few months later the lawyers won a judge's order to compel Reverend Norman to make repairs. Still, the facility balked. It was while the lawyers were threatening to seek a contempt judgment that the state commenced negotiations to close the facility.

Reverend Norman's agreement with the state calls for "appropriate placement" of residents in an adult home or nursing facility.

But according to Gitlitz and the attorneys from MFY, Pacific House is pressuring residents to leave immediately. "They were told that if they are not gone by June 30, they will be turning off the lights and the water. People are terrified," said Gitlitz.

State health department officials declined to comment about Pacific House's future once it is empty. But Assemblyman Norman said the decision has been made to turn the building over to the Albany-based Altamont Program, headed by Father Peter Young, who is a longtime chaplain of the state senate.

Young said the plan evolved from his earlier attempt to take over the existing program. "I was heartbroken we couldn't work it out there, but ultimately we felt we weren't equipped to run an adult home," he said. He is currently negotiating with Reverend Norman to acquire the property, although he said he didn't know how much his organization would pay for it.

But Young said that the state's Dormitory Authority has already given him a list of needed repairs to the building and that the Altamont Program is slated to receive at least $400,000 in state money for the renovation.

Meanwhile, the closing of Pacific House, despite its problems, is wrenching to many residents. Michael Virgo, 36, a somber man who has spent four years there, said he would rather stay where he is now.

"The state came so many times here and gave them warnings. Still, nothing changed. They could've fixed the place up, gotten good staff. Now we all have to leave. It's not the residents' faults. I wished I could stay and make it better here."


photographs by Brian Finke

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