Home and School President Martha Dwyer's Corrections to Waterbury Republican Article
O’Neill: Get Off Shelter List
Empty School Buildings Called Uninhabitable
BY BILL BITTAR
July 20, 2014
SOUTHBURY — State Rep. Arthur O’Neill, R-Southbury, is pushing to have the Southbury Training School campus removed from a federal list of possible shelters, because he says the abandoned buildings are unsuitable for people to live in. Empty buildings at the school were considered by the federal government as a refuge for homeowners displaced after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and, more recently, for Central American children who entered the United States unaccompanied from Mexico.
Connecticut’s Office of Policy Management denied both requests, but O’Neill wants the school taken off the federal list of possible shelters.
"It would not be humanitarian to move children to a building not habitable for a human population,"” O’Neill said during Thursday night’s Board of Selectmen meeting. He said the buildings have no security protections, are filled with asbestos and are empty shells, having been stripped of toilets, sinks and refrigeration equipment while being shut down.
On Monday, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration turned down a federal government request to temporarily house 1,000 to 2,000 children in 90,000 square feet it would lease from Southbury Training School. Federal officials hoped the children could be fed and receive medical care while waiting for placement with sponsors, until getting hearings on their status.
O’Neill said it was wise to be cautious when the federal government uses the word “temporary.” "In 1898 the federal government passed a tax to pay for the war with Spain,”" he said. “That was on the books almost 100 years later.”
O’Neill said the federal government had sued the training school and the state has court orders saying no one can live there,— yet the federal government has twice asked that it be used to house people.
The U.S. Justice Department had charged that the school did not meet the stipulations of a 1986 consent decree stemming from alleged overcrowding and squalor at the school.
“I think OPM made the right call again,” O’Neill said of the denial.
The state legislator said he contacted the governor’s office and OPM to try to get Southbury Training School off the list of potential places for people to stay after natural disasters and other circumstances that cause them to need temporary living quarters.
Dr. Ruby Corby O’Neill, who is O’Neill’s wife, also spoke out on the issue. “Why was it ever considered OK to house these minority children in inadequate buildings with no support services?” she asked. “I think it’s a form of institutional racism, because it’s for these minority children.” As someone who came to America from Honduras, Corby O’Neill said she felt particularly offended. “I’m very pleased Southbury will not be considered,” she said. Corby O’Neill said she would like to see the federal government invest in cities in need of revitalization, like Bridgeport and Detroit, making areas into places where the children could become U.S. citizens, grow and thrive.
This is in response to the July 20 story “O’Neill: Get off shelter list” and the editorial the same day, “In a crisis, weasel words.” Both indicated the Southbury Training School (STS) is in violation of a federal consent decree and that it is under federal scrutiny.
The federal government entered into a consent decree in 1986 with Connecticut regarding STS. The requirements of the decree were satisfied, and it was dismissed nearly five years ago. Compliance with the decree resulted in many improvements in the care provided at STS.
My brother Tom has lived at STS for more than 40 years, and I have been actively involved in his care. I also am president of the Home and School Association of STS, which seeks to promote the comfort and welfare of residents of STS, and a member of the board of directors of the STS Foundation, which operates a guardianship program that currently serves 74 STS residents and 59 former residents of STS who we have moved into community facilities.
As the population of STS has diminished, buildings have been closed but residents continue to live in comfortable cottages on a beautiful campus. The cottages are near each other, near the dental and health facilities, the fitness center and the school.
Tom, like most STS residents, is severely disabled, intellectually and physically. He requires constant supervision and a high level of care. The care at STS is, and has been for many years, excellent.
President, Home and School Association of Southbury Training School
July 23, 2014