Conceptualizing community: a comparison of neighborhood characteristics of supportive housing for persons with psychiatric and developmental disabilities

Irene Wong YL, Stanhope V.  School of Social Policy & Practice, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6214, USA.  Soc Sci Med. 2009 Apr;68(8):1376-87. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2009.01.046. Epub 2009 Feb 27.

Housing and services for persons with developmental disabilities (DD) have been shaped by the normalization approach, a commitment to full integration within the general community. In contrast, housing and services for persons with psychiatric disabilities (PD) have had various and sometimes conflicting goals, including provision of custodial care, promotion of therapeutic community, and community integration. This cross-field study compares the neighborhood characteristics of publicly-funded housing for the PD and DD populations in a metropolitan community. The aim of the study was to examine whether the contrasting housing approaches are reflected at an ecological level and to consider how these findings relate to the goal of community integration for people with PD and DD. Administrative databases provided residential addresses of 1932 residents with PD living in 297 locations and 1716 residents with DD living in 749 locations in the city of Philadelphia. The 2000 U.S. Census and city’s police department database provided information on neighborhood characteristics. Geographic information system (GIS) methodology generated maps displaying the distribution of housing locations in relation to spatial dispersion, distress, stability, safety, and race/ethnic diversity. Statistical analyses compared neighborhood characteristics of the DD and PD populations. Findings indicated that the DD population in supportive housing was more spatially dispersed, and lived in less distressed, less unstable, more secure, but equally racially/ethnically diverse neighborhoods when compared to the PD population in supportive housing. Greater geographic dispersal among persons with DD may be the result of more emphasis on normalization within policies and programs determining the location of their housing. The higher funding levels for housing and residential support for persons with DD also provided programs with the option of placing people in higher income neighborhoods. Given that community integration has emerged as an organizing principle within mental health services over other models, policymakers in the field of psychiatric disabilities may have much to learn from the normalization movement for people with developmental disabilities.