Upham's Corner Online

Vinfen Group Home on Virginia Street Affecting Quality of Life

Posted: December 13, 2011     Nancy J Conrad

Issues associated with Vinfen Group Home on Virigina Street are a regular topic at the neighborhood association meetings.  The group  discusses and debates today's problem only to have it replaced by tomorrow's.

The issues do not go away.  One fundamental reason is that the Vinfen group home does not operate cooperatively with the neighbors.  They are "reactive" instead of "proactive," thus putting the responsibility on the neighbors to tell them when there are issues.

Setting up a partnerhip with the community so that the two adversarial parties can work out their differences might just work.

Several residents at the December meeting of the Upham's Corner Westside Neighborhood Association brought up issues about the Vinfen Group Home at 25 Virginia Street which, they say, continue to impact their quality of life.Vinfen Group Home
  1. A new resident sings loudly on the front porch, loud enough to disturb the neighbors
  2. Trash was in front of the house for five days despite a call being made to Vinfen and a promise that the trash would be cleaned up
The residents identifying these issues, the Vinfen representative and other attendees talked about responsibility, decibels, noise, how to deal with the situation and a reminder that problems have continued at the group home for over two years.

Yet it did not seem that much progress was made towards a resolution.
  • Does the resident have a right to sing on the front porch?
  • How do you know when the singing is too loud?
  • Is it in the ear of the hearer and then arbitrary?
  • Was Vinfen Management paying any attention to what the resident was doing?
  • Did they care?
  • Are the neighbors too picky?
  • Is the group home too sloppy?
During the conversation, the Vinfen representative placed the onus of responsibility on residents of the neighborhood to call him or the house and lodge a complaint.  Or if appropriate, call the police.  More than once, he resorted to that tactic.

This month's two issues are not "the problem."

Beneath the conversation, complaints and defensive comments lies the real problem.   The issues are just more of the continuing and endless complaints that stem from expectations about "quality of life" standards that are being disturbed by the existence of the group home.

For Vinfen management It is to their advantage to handle or mishandle one issue at a time, making it look like they "care" about the community.  This is a convenient smokescreen for not focusing on the bigger picture which is a degradation in the quality of community life caused by the group home.

The Vinfen representative countered the community criticism.  "Vinfen as a whole does take the community very seriously."

It does?  Then why do the problems continue?  Why?  Because they are not taking their community responsibilities seriously.

A group home is more than four walls with staff who manage the clients living there.  A group home is a piece of real property alongside other real property in a neighborhood of home owners and families. 

There is an expectation that a "group" home in the midst of family homes will be taken care of at least as well, if not better, than all the other homes on the street.

It is also expected that the group home residents will be well behaved, not calling excessive attention to themselves either through behavior or noise.

If problems do occur, then a well publicized method of communication and reporting accountability must be in place. 
  • Residents need to be able to report a problem immediately to a "live" Vinfen person (not answering machine)
  • The Vinfen representative must specify a time by which the problem is corrected
  • The Vinfen representative must get back to the caller in a timely manner if that is requested
Problems should be the exception, not the norm.

The staff who manage the group house environment must look beyond the inside of their four walls.  The group home is located in a residential neighborhood and it is paramount that staff look often at the outside of the property to make sure that there are no problems.

They need to ask questions that go beyond the four walls, questions that focus on the impact they are having on the community, on everything that the existence of that organization is helping to create or destroy. 
  • How are we as an organization impacting the neighborhood? 
  • How are we as an organization impacting Upham's Corner [its reputation]? 
Go across the street.  Look and listen.  Ask:  "If I were a homeowner on the street, how would I feel about the group home house?"
  • Is it well cared for or disheveled?
  • Is there trash/litter in the yard, on the sidewalk or in the street in front?
  • Are any group home residents acting in such a way as to potentially cause disruption for the neighborhood?
Waiting until a complaint occurs is accepting the minimal level of behavior that the community will tolerate.  This is a poor way to operate.  The group house should help set high standards for the entire community.

When staff/management get a complaint, it is important to fix the situation so it never occurs again and to put in place "oversight procedures" that will help prevent the problem from recurring.

Vinfen management telling area residents to "call" someone (Vinfen or the police) when there is an issue is placing the responsibility of managing that house on the neighborhood residents.  This is wrong.   Except for true emergencies, no group house situation should ever escalate to a point where the police have to be called in. 

Vinfen is in the business of managing people who are "at risk."  Although the group home "looks" like a normal residence, it is not.  The residents require "management" and by definition this creates "risk" for the community.  

Any time an environment exists which people view as a "ticking bomb" - a potential for unacceptable behavior or conditions - it automatically creates stress. The stress, however, exists on both sides. 

Resident When is someone at, or something about the group home going to bother me again?
Group Home When am I going to get another complaint from the neighbors?

The result is an adversarial relationship between the community and the group home. 

One approach to improving the relationship is for the group home management to setup a partnership with the community. And that begins with the group home management becoming more transparent in its operations.
  • Make a commitment to greater transparency in its operation
  • Share the management rules / standards with the community
  • Track performance and share this with the community
  • Create a group home "report card"
  • Welcome suggestions and help from the community

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