Serenity needs community aid

Unfortunately, Serenity Court, a valued member of the Bainbridge Island community for more than 30 years, may be forced to close its doors sometime during the next few months. The group home for 18 developmentally disabled adults, some of whom have lived most of their lives in the old house on the hill above Lynwood Center, appears to be the victim of a financial dilemma and changes in how disabled people are cared for in the 21st century.

The future of the large group home is still undecided, but Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority, owner of the century-old building, faces an expensive renovation without the funding to accomplish it. The Department of Social and Health Services is against re-licensing such large group homes, preferring smaller homes for four to six adults. Simply put, the large homes are a dying breed because the current generation of young disabled adults and their families generally prefer more independent living, which is an emphasis in the smaller group settings.

And then there’s the financial side of trying to keep a dilapidated structure from collapsing without having the appropriate funding. The state administered Housing Trust Fund, which gave the municipal housing authority corporation a $1.5 million grant to cover the loan used to buy Serenity Court in 2005, has said Serenity must remain what it was when the grant was issued or it will be nullified. The two sides are now negotiating the future of the home, but it appears it won’t be long before Serenity is broken up into smaller pieces.

The way the state housed developmentally disabled adults was changing when Ruth Closser and her husband opened Serenity Court 38 years ago in the former Pleasant Beach School. Many of the new residents had been housed in Rainier School before the state began downsizing the infamous Buckley institution. One of the current residents, a Bainbridge Island native named Larry, has lived at Serenity since the Clossers opened it. He certainly doesn’t want to move elsewhere, but he may not have a choice because the model has changed again.

While placing the 18 Serenity residents in smaller group homes may be best for them long term, disrupting their lives will undoubtedly cause trauma for many of them. For example, two residents have become a couple since living at Serenity, and there’s no guarantee that they will be placed together, primarily because their funding comes from different sources. If Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority is forced to close Serenity, an action that appears inevitable at this time, it may have to place the residents in temporary houses until permanent homes can be found.

DSHS case workers are currently discussing the situation with the residents and their families, but displacing them will be extremely painful. They have thrived at Serenity because of the strong sense of community that exists there, primarily because of the mutual bond and trust that has grown between residents and the Serenity employees who have been their friends and caretakers each and every day for many years. While it’s not uncommon these days for families to become disconnected, the separation anxiety involved in this breakup may change some of their lives forever.

Hopefully, those involved in orchestrating this event will not underestimate the impact it will have on those moving on and those being left behind. There has been a tendency over the years to treat developmentally disabled adults as if they are being warehoused, that their feelings are less human than the rest of us. That inclination has begun to dissipate, perhaps, but when lives are being uprooted it’s always important to accentuate the need for care and sensitivity. It can make a difference.

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