Upham's Corner Online

Vinfen Group House - Maybe we should Notify DSS

Posted: Monday, September 20, 2010
Nancy Conrad
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We begin with a story - "A Tale of Upham's Corner".

Once upon a time there was a large house on Virginia St in Upham's Corner.  In it lived a large family consisting of the parents and their many children.  The grandparents stopped by on occasion as well.  A sign next to the front door read: "Grandparents" and provided a phone number.

Trouble is... the parents weren't  minding the store.  The kids were regularly out at six o'clock in the morning, all day, and even till 11 o'clock at night.  Sometimes the kids got locked out of the house for extended periods, demanding (shouting) to be let back in.  The older children were begging the neighbors for cigarettes.  The yard was often a mess and the gate was left open frequently.

If a neighbor knocked on the door, it could take five minutes before someone opened it.  Reports were  the parents were leaving the premises to go hang out on Dudley Street or buy a pizza or whatever, but they weren't minding the flock.
It was hard not to ignore this house.  Behavior of the residents and the overall conditions were impacting the neighborhood.  The loud noises, loitering and begging were bothering neighbors close by, some of whom worked from home.

So the neighbors thought to themselves: "Let's call the grandparents."  Great idea!  They left messages, got transferred to other mailboxes, were assured that the parents would return and do their job right, but the problems never seemed to go away.

So the neighbors thought to themselves:  "Let's have a big meeting with everybody in the neighborhood and let's invite the parents and grandparents to come."

This is where our fairy tale ends and the true story begins.  
25 Virginia St is a group house with 15 dedicated HUD "leases" specifically targeted for referrals by the Department of Mental Health.  Vinfen Corporation has the contract to manage the house.
  • The Kids - Referrals from the Department of Mental Health
  • Mom and Dad - Vinfen staff
  • Grandparents - Vinfen management
  • The Problems? - Just like in the fairy tale.


On Tuesday, September 14 2010 UCWNA (Upham's Corner West side Neighborhood Association ) held its September meeting dedicated to the problems at 25 Virginia St. 

Present were three representatives from 25 Virginia Street and at least 20 residents from the neighborhood.

The primary spokesperson from Vinfen was John Murphy, Director of Service.  Throughout the evening Mr. Murphy held an expressionless face - placid, unchanging.   No matter what the residents said, no matter what degree of concern or outrage was expressed, his facial expression remained the same.  

Oh, yes, ... his words expressed concern for the neighborhood;  he committed to high quality management; he invited people to call him.  But his face belied (no sign of emotion) his words.

More than his exquisite ability to deal with the “angry mob" was his game of "tennis" -  returning the ball to the other court.  He repeated himself: "Whenever that (a whole list of resident issues) happens, you need to give us a call."

In other words you get to take responsibility for what we are not properly managing.

Residents spoke up saying they had already tried that -- and for the last year -- many times -- with no change in the behavior of the house.  One attendee pointed out that it is not the neighborhood's responsibility to police the behavior of the house.  

The most vocal residents were Aaron and Catherine Larget-Caplan  from 21 Virginia St. who live next door to the group house.  Aaron is "concerned" (he said to put it mildly).  He and Catherine both work from home and are repeatedly bothered by the noise and begging.  The property is not maintained and detracts from the efforts he is putting into his own home.  

Over the last year they have taken a variety of actions including the following:

 - Made calls to the police and to Vinfen Read Nov 2009 Log of Events
 - Wrote complaint letters to Vinfen Read Jan 24 2010 Letter to Vinfen
 - Asked the neighborhood association for help Read UCWNA Letter to Vinfen
In John Murphy's own words, 25 Virginia St  is in a direct referral "pipeline" from DMH, the Department of Mental Health.  

What does this mean?  If you look closely, the implications are significant and, we posit, part of the cause of the problem here.

Introducing mental health patients back into the community is a MUST and is not easy to do.  You can't just let them wander in the streets, homeless.  They must be placed at a Group House where they are managed (medicated).  

  • It is in DMH's best interests to have a direct pipeline (reduce patient load)  
  • It is in Vinfen's best interests to keep their beds full (income)  
The problem with direct, non-competitive pipelines is that they get "sloppy."  DMH's need for an available bed could easily rate higher than the service being provided by Vinfen.
Now let's imagine a different scenario.  Imagine the existence of multiple group houses with more than enough beds for all DMH referrals.  In fact there are beds in surplus.  When DMH has a referral, they put out a "bid" and the Group Houses must bid on the client.  The home selected by DMH is based on a combination of performance, cost and reputation in the neighborhood.  

The competition, in effect, improves the overall performance for everyone - clients, neighborhood and DMH.

Of course, this scenario probably has nothing to do with 25 Virginia Street, RIGHT?
As a social services management company, Vinfen is not taking care of "it's own."  They are responsible for making sure the residents of 25 Virginia Street demonstrate good behavior and are well taken care of.  Staff must make sure their “children”:
  • are under control
  • get to bed on time
  • do not get locked out of the house
  • do not beg from neighbors
Clearly, Vinfen is not living up to its responsibilities.  
Hmmm.  Let's see.

When parents are derelict and the children are "at risk", when the neighborhood is being impacted by the family behavior, whom do you call?  Police?  DSS?  Department of Mental Health?  Or maybe we should call our lawyers?

Gotta' call someone ... and soon!

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