Dear Alderman Smith:
I know you have worked hard to address the problem of Somerset Place within your community. You have expressed concern at the level of risk many residents present (ie., the Tribune series regarding identified offenders) and the lack of supervision provided by the facility. You have repeatedly described the problems Somerset residents cause in the neighborhood, ranging from nuisance (panhandling, loitering) to serious criminal behavior (drug use, drug sales, prostitution and violence). Though I personally believe that Somerset residents represent only a small fraction of criminal activity in Uptown (and that residents are the victims as often as the perpetrator of criminal activity), I understand your concern and certainly sympathize with the frustration of your constituents.
I want to apprise you of what the state is currently doing in the process of closing Somerset Place. The state has recently finished re-screening every resident and has re-evaluated many as not needing placement in a 24-hour nursing facility. That is, they will be placed in the community. I wish I could reassure you that only residents that are entirely appropriate for community living will be placed in the community, but I am certain that will not be the case.
This brings up a couple of questions. First, if these residents were originally screened as needing 24-hour nursing care, why do they not need it now? Is the state suggesting that many residents have improved while at Somerset? Doubtful. Second, regarding those 66 identified offenders and other high-risk individuals the Tribune asserts are not safe, even living in facilities like Somerset, where are they going? Are any of them being rescreened and placed into the community?
The state is playing a shell game. Your constituents may believe they have rid the neighborhood of problematic residents, but many, if not most of them, will simply be shifted elsewhere in the Uptown/Edgewater area, many in significantly less supervised settings.
I would encourage you to continue your diligence by inquiring about the disposition the state is planning for the 300+ residents of Somerset. Curiously, they appear to be secretive about it. Having talked with many staff, it seems the state is not sharing the results of the rescreening with the facility. Here is one agency involved in placing Somerset residents in the community:
Heartland Alliance, http://www.heartlandalliance.org/contactus.html
The key person overseeing and coordinating the state’s effort at Somerset is:
Roberta Beckert, 773−265−7818
I would encourage you and your constituents to contact this agency and Ms. Beckert and ask the following:
- what are the criteria by which the state is determining the required level of care in the disposition of residents at Somerset (ie., what determines when a resident is appropriate for community living?)
- where, exactly, are they planning on moving the 300+ residents of Somerset?
I believe the media coverage of Somerset has been greatly distorted and fails to identify the root problem: that the state provides inadequate services for the severely mentally ill. They have adopted a strategy of using nursing homes to meet the needs of this population. By blaming the industry they created and sustain through their policies and funding, they appear to evade responsibility. But they have not. They may be closing Somerset, but the 300+ psychiatric patients do not go away. They and their problems remain, only now they become the responsibility of the state. Watch carefully what the state does. Where do these residents go?
I have started a blog about these issues, https://5009sheridan.wordpress.com. I welcome you and your constituents to read, comment and contribute to this blog.
Thank you for your time,
PS- FYI, I have posted this letter on my blog and may post it on other blogs. I will post any responses you provide, at your request.