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THE NIMBY PHENOMENON: Community Residents' Concerns about Housing for Deinstitutionalized People.

This article reports the findings of a study on community opposition to group homes in Montreal, Canada. This qualitative study set out to explore the underlying dynamics of what happens when a community rejects a group home. With the use of a naturalistic paradigm, three actual incidents of community opposition were studied. Nineteen interviews were conducted with community residents, elected officials, and group home developers. Community residents did not support deinstitutionalization and social integration policies and argued against group homes. The findings of this study, never reported before in previous research, have important implications for social workers and social planners.

Key words

community relations


group homes



Not in my back yard" (NIMBY) developed more than 30 years ago, at a time when the deinstitutionalization of various groups of disabled people was socially and poltically popular in much of North America. Over time, various forms of community housing were created to meet the needs of those being discharged from institutions into the community. The rapid development of community housing, foster homes, group homes, hostels, supervised apartments, and, more recently, supported housing has resulted in many problems, including poor integration of deinstitutionalized people into the community, fragmentation of social services, "ghettoization," and negative community reaction. The negative community reaction was the focus of this study.

Although, historically, the general public supported deinstitutionalization, it has not been uncommon for community residents to react negatively when faced with the possibility of deinstitutionalized people living in their neighborhoods. Over the years social workers have had firsthand experience with community opposition to group homes. Community opposition usually manifested itself during the early stages of implementing a group home. The scenario is almost always the same. An announcement is made that a group home is imminent, and community residents mobilize to block it. Many strategies have been devised to oppose group homes: door-to-door canvassing, petitions, public meetings, and negative media campaigns. The opposition movement usually gains momentum in most communities. In some cases, opposition efforts successfully block the group home, whereas in other cases, opposition efforts fail and the group home begins operating with minimal community support.

This article reports community residents' perspectives on their opposition to group homes. Although the focus is on community residents' perspectives, other viewpoints (for example, supporters) also are presented to offer contrasting findings. My own interest in this phenomenon began several years ago, when my responsibilities as a social worker brought me into contact with communities unwilling to accept a proposed group home. Confronted by the NIMBY problem, I responded on a case-by-case basis. I realized that community opposition posed a serious problem for social workers mandated to assist in closing institutions and in developing community-based residential resources.


The overall objective of the study was to better understand community opposition to group homes. The study was based on the actual experience of three different communities and the strategies people used to oppose or support a group home. It explored the underlying dynamics of what happens when a group home is introduced in a community. Guiding the research was the implicit assumption that community residents directly affected by the group home had something important to say about their experience and that this information could help social workers develop community-based housing for deinstitutionalized people. The fundamental research question was, "Why do people react negatively to a group home?" The study explored what happened when the community opposed the group home, described major events and the outcome of the opposition movement, and explained why residents reacted negatively to a group home in their community.


The majority of studies on the NIMBY phenomenon had measured attitudes toward the various disability groups or the different residential facilities. These studies asked people how they felt about certain disability groups or how they would feel about having them live in their neighborhoods (Biodeau, 1992; Boudreault, 1989; C[hat{o}]t[acute{e}], Caron, & Ouellet, 1995; Dear & Taylor, 1982; Heal, Sigelman, & Switzky, 1978; Moreau, Novak, & Sigelman, 1980; Poulin & L[acute{e}]vesque 1995; Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 1990; Solomon & Davis, 1984). Some studies have demonstrated that familiarity and experience with a disability group have a positive effect on attitudes C[hat{o}]t[acute{e}], Ouellet, Lachance, & Lemay, 1992; Johnson & Beditz, 1981; Kastner, Repucci, & Pezzoli, 1980; Seltzer, 1985; Sigelman, Spanhel, & Lorenzen, 1979), whereas others have focused on the positive effect of proximity on community opposition to group homes (Metropolitan Human Services Commission, 1986; Pittock & Potts, 1988). Whethe r attitudes change over time also has been addressed in several studies, with results that are confirming (Ashmore, 1975; Gottlieb, 1975; Gottlieb & Strichart, 1981) and disconfirming (Trute, Tefft, & Segall, 1989). Other measures of attitude, such as the Social Distance Scale (Bogardus, 1933), have been modified over the years to measure the hierarchy of preference toward the groups of people recently labeled disabled, including drug addicts and people with AIDS (Harasymiw, Home, & Lewis, 1976; Tringo, 1970). Although they are popular, attitude studies also are limited. On the basis of hypothetical situations, these studies do not predict actual behavior or how people would react when confronted with group homes for people with disabilities (Kastner et al.; 1980; Moreau et al., 1980; Seltzer, 1985; Tara, 1985).

In recent years studies have investigated actual cases of community opposition (Baillargeon, Martineau, & Proulx, 1991; Dorvil, 1988a, 1988b; Morin, 1988). These studies have identified specific variables that may cause or predict the NIMBY phenomenon. These include personal security concerns, such as fear of criminal acts and physical aggression toward one's family (Gardner, 1981; Julien, 1990; Metropolitan Human Services Commission, 1986; Rabkin, Mublin, & Cohen, 1984; Tully, Winter, Wilson, & Scanlon, 1982; Willms, 1981), declining property values (Dear, 1977; Farber, 1986; Lubin, Schwartz, Zigman, & Janicki, 1982; Mambort, Thomas, & Few, 1981; Myers & Bridges, 1995; Scott & Scott, 1980; Wiener, Anderson, & Nietupski, 1982; Wolpert, 1978), and negative effect on neighborhood amenities and quality of life (Baron & Piasecki, 1981; Berdiansky & Parker, 1977; Cupaiuolo, 1979; Eynon, 1989).

Despite the large number of studies, research on community opposition to group homes remains inconclusive. The literature includes a wide range of research questions, hypotheses, and findings, but we do not have a clear understanding of the NIMBY phenomenon--why it occurs or how to prevent or overcome it (Gendron & Piat, 1991). Most studies examine only the perceptions of administrators, staff, or group home developers, disregarding the general community's perspective. In this study, the community residents' perspectives, specifically those opposing the group home, were pivotal to the study's objectives. Ultimately, it was hypothesized that eliciting the views of community residents directly involved would provide new insight into this social problem.


This study used a naturalistic paradigm. The underlying tenet of this paradigm, developed by Lincoln and Guba (1985) is that there are "multiple constructed realities that can be studied only holistically" (p.37). The aim of naturalistic inquiry is to "develop shared constructions that illuminate a particular context and provide working hypotheses for the investigation of others" (Erlandson, Harris, Skipper, & Alien, 1993, p. 45). We chose this approach because it allowed the researcher to explore the different perceptions of the various people and their experiences with community opposition to group homes.

Three incidents of community opposition were selected among the seven known cases in Montreal, Canada. These incidents occurred in opposition to a group home for adult ex-psychiatric patients, a group home for children with cognitive and physical disabilities, and a group home for criminal offenders. Incidents of community opposition to the group homes had occurred during a two-year period at the time of the study. I used maximum variation (Patton, 1990) to select the sample. To obtain the widest variation of the NIMBY phenomenon, I used the following variables to select the final sample: the type of group home resident or disability in the group home, the number of people, average length of stay, socioeconomic status of the group home location, and the strategy used to open the group home (Table 1).

I conducted 19 in-depth interviews with four categories of respondents: (1) group home developers, (2) elected or public officials, (3) supporters of group homes, and (4) opponents of group homes. Group home developers included administrators or professionals responsible for implementing the group home. Elected officials were people who represented the district in which the group home was located. People who either supported or opposed the group home were community residents. In all, seven interviews were conducted with community residents opposing, six with community residents supporting, three with elected officials, and three with group home developers. Community residents were recruited by two methods: (1) names of community residents (active in supporting or opposing) were taken from press clippings and after each interview, and (2) community residents were asked to recommend other community residents for the study.

Two elements guided the development of the interview questions: the use of open-ended questions and in-depth focused interviewing. Open-ended questions capture the points of view without predetermining questionnaire categories (Patton, 1990). In-depth focused interviews elicit as complete a report as possible of what is involved in the experience of a particular situation (Merton, Fiske, & Kendall, 1990). Interviews were 60 to 90 minutes long and were conducted in the respondent's home or place of work. Interviews were tape-recorded and transcribed verbatim. Notes were taken during the interview. These served to formulate new questions or verify something said during the interview or to use later in data analysis (Patton).

Data analysis was inductive and ongoing and not an isolated one-time event (Erlandson et al., 1993; Miles & Huberman, 1994). I began to analyze the data after the first interview. Each interview was coded, decontextualized, or divided into separate units of meaning. This entailed "disaggregating data into the smallest pieces of information that may stand alone as independent thoughts" (Erlandson et al., 1993, p. 117). After this, similar units of meaning were grouped together and assigned a category. The final step in the first level of analysis was to reconstruct the entire interview using these categories to retell the story. The second level of analysis involved comparing and contrasting the 19 interviews and the four respondent categories. The goal was to discover patterns and common issues shared among the different groups. This type of "emerging" analysis, in which there are no predetermined categories, falls under the naturalistic inquiry or constructivist paradigm (Guba & Lincoln, 1981).

Ethical Considerations

Participation in the study was voluntary. Before the interview each respondent was informed about the nature of the research, its objectives, and how the information would be used in the future. No identifying information was used. Fictitious names, including the three different communities and group homes, were used throughout. Steps were taken to avoid deception. Before each interview I explained to the respondent that the study would not affect whether the group home remained in the community. After each interview I held a debriefing session, during which respondents were encouraged to raise questions or concerns they had about the group home or about the research.

The Three Cases: A Description

At the time of the study, the group homes had been in operation between four months and one year. Foyer Flanders, the first case studied, was operating under the auspices of a large public psychiatric hospital in Montreal. It provided mental health services to 260,000 people. At the time of the study, the hospital had 1,228 beds and operated 165 foster homes, seven adjunct clinics, and nine group homes. The group home under scrutiny was located in the northeast section of Montreal, which had a population of 73,120 (Statistics Canada, 1991). The total average family income of this working class community was $39,895 (Statistics Canada). The people who lived at Foyer Flanders had been diagnosed with severe and persistent mental illness. Most had been under psychiatric care for 20 years and had been institutionalized for 11 to 14 years. Eight adults, ages 39 to 60 years, were selected for this group home. None was considered dangerous or sexually deviant or had a criminal record.

The second case, Mansfield Services for Disabled Persons, was also a public agency that had operated in Montreal for more than 30 years. It offered a continuum of residential, vocational, and support services to people with intellectual disabilities. At the time of the study, Mansfield Services managed three group homes for adults and provided support services for 12 other community residences. The group home developer purchased the home in a quiet residential community with a population of 28,700 (Statistics Canada, 1991) and an average total family income of $58,191 (Statistics Canada). The eight children with cognitive and physical disabilities selected to live in the Mansfield group home previously had lived in institutions. They were 11 to 17 years of age and came from different cultural backgrounds.

The third case, Grandeville Group Home, provided transitional housing, rehabilitation, and support services for people completing prison sentences. Grandeville Group Home purchased a home in an upper-income community in Montreal, with a population of 63,317 (Ville de Montreal 1994). The average total family income for people living near the group home was $88,547 (Statistics Canada, 1991). The group home residents were women who already had served one-sixth of their prison sentence and were eligible to complete their sentences in the community. Most of these offenders were under state jurisdiction and were serving sentences of less than two years. The majority (85 percent) had been convicted of nonviolent offenses, such as shoplifting, fraud, and theft. Many were mothers with young children.

Common Features

It is important to note that although the three cases took place in three different communities there are several issues common to all three cases. First, in all cases, community residents learned about the group home as a fait accompli, only after it moved into the community. The group home developers deliberately chose a "low-profile" strategy because they did not believe that they had to inform or prepare the community for the arrival of the group home. More important, they felt that prior notice would allow community residents to block the group home. Thus only a select few were informed ahead of time: community leaders, elected officials, and board members of the group home. Ultimately, group home developers hoped that community residents would be more understanding and supportive once the group home was in operation. Community residents were informed about the group home at the public information meeting held after the group home had opened.

Second, community residents in all three cases used the same strategy to oppose the group home. On learning about the group home, they immediately began to organize their opposition efforts, spearheaded by one or two key community leaders. The opposition movement produced two critical events--a petition circulated door to door and a public information meeting. At the public information meeting, community residents rejected the group home. However, this meeting marked a turning point; as in all three cases, the opposition movement dissipated after the public meeting. In the end efforts to oppose the group homes failed, and community residents were left with no choice but to accept them.


Two new findings never reported before emerged from the study. The first finding was that community residents in all three cases did not support deinstitutionalization policies and used this as a major focus of their opposition to the group homes. Community residents felt that the group home was a financial venture. They accused the staff of mistreating the residents. Other community residents questioned whose responsibility it was to care for deinstitutionalized people and argued that group homes should be located anywhere but in their neighborhood.

The second finding was that community residents did not believe that deinstitutionalized individuals could be socially integrated into the community. Community residents argued that group home residents were unable and unwilling to become integrated in the community. Some community residents felt that group home developers never intended to integrate the group home residents, and they concluded that integration did not benefit anyone. It should be noted that although this article focuses on the opponents of group homes, it reports supporters' perspectives at specific points to contrast with or support the findings.

Case against Deinstitutionalization

Opponents believed that the development of group homes was motivated by financial considerations, either by the government or by the group home developers. Four of seven opponents interviewed stated that the group home was a profit-making venture. It should be noted that in all three cases the group home was purchased by the group home developers. Extensive renovations were undertaken in two of the homes, the Mansfield group home and Foyer Flanders. Although the group home developers were not-for-profit organizations, this was never communicated to the community residents before or after the group home opened. In the Mansfield group home case, two opponents were convinced that the group home was a real estate investment and that the government purchased the group home for financial reasons. Others alleged that the underlying reason for group homes was cost reduction. Opponents stated that it was more cost efficient to operate a group home than to maintain people in institutions. One opponent of the Foyer Flan ders project articulated this position when he stated:

I cannot, as an intelligent and reasonable individual, accept the fact that we take handicapped individuals [ldots] that we place them with families, or in the hospital [ldots] the major reason is to save money. Because that's the goal of politicians. The most important goal for politicians, in all this is money.

The second argument against deinstitutionalization was to discredit the group home developer's efforts to enable people to live in a least-restrictive environment. Six of seven opponents accused the group home developers of mistreating the residents of the group home. In one case community residents described the group home as a prison and an institution. In another case they argued that the children were mistreated, locked in the home, and rarely went outside.

These kids are being put in a prison. If they would be in an institution there would be no difference at all. It's just because it's a house. But it's not different. In an institution they will be locked in. Here they are locked in too.

Two others criticized group home staff for being insensitive to community residents. Another stated that the home did not provide a family-type atmosphere and concluded that it was an institution based in the community. Group home staff were described as unkind. They used the organization to maintain their jobs rather than to help the group home residents. Condemning the quality of care provided in the group home was an effective strategy, because it undermined the group home developer's credibility and their efforts to provide a better quality of life for people previously institutionalized.

Furthermore, the group home served as an impetus for community residents to question whose responsibility it was to provide adequate housing and support for deinstitutionalized people. Community residents opposing the group home believed that the state was responsible for the care of deinstitutionalized people. Four of the seven felt that it was not their responsibility to support group homes in their community. They argued that they supported group homes through their individual tax contributions and that the state or natural parents should be responsible for deinstitutionalized people. This position is best exemplified by an opponent of the Grandeville Group Home:

You know the reasons that they're in there is really not my concern. It's not my concern because (a) I'm not a social worker and (b) you know I have my own life to lead. If people are going to commit crimes, they are going to eventually have to be sent to a prison and then have to go through these kinds of programs, I don't see why I have to be a part of that. If I wish to be a part of that then maybe I would have been a police officer, or I would have been a warden in a jail, or I would have been working in one of those houses. But I don't choose to have anything to do with that part of society. It has nothing to do with me. You know I pay my taxes that probably pay for these institutes, which is normal and it protects me I hope as a citizen and I accept that.

Another group of community residents condemned the natural parents for not caring for their dependent family member and placing them in a group home. This argument was exemplified in the Mansfield group home case, in which community members questioned who should be reprimanded: the neighbors for opposing the group home or the natural parents for refusing to care for their disabled child?

Most community residents felt that group homes should not be located in their communities. Although the interviewees were not questioned directly about this, the issue was raised spontaneously. The suggestions put forth all called for relocating the group home elsewhere, although, at the time of the study, each of the three group homes was in full operation. Opponents were unanimous in their argument that group homes should not be located in their community. They recommended locating group homes in lower-income areas, in institutions outside Montreal, and in other areas already zoned for institutions. One community resident, who lived next to the Grandeville Group Home, stated that it was inappropriate to place criminal offenders in the community. The resident argued that socioeconomic differences between those living in the group home and the community would hinder the rehabilitation process. He recommended placing offenders in neighborhoods that better reflected their socioeconomic backgrounds, one in whic h they could eventually live, find work, and make friends. Similarly, another community resident proposed that group homes be located in lower-income areas, where there was more collaboration among community residents, compared with this resident's neighborhood, where people "stayed behind closed doors."

Three of the seven community residents recommended locating group homes in institutions outside Montreal. One community resident argued that the Mansfield group home did not meet the needs of children with cognitive disabilities. The resident recommended building a complex or compound for children with disabilities outside Montreal and placing children with similar disabilities together so that they could better communicate among themselves. Another community resident argued that psychiatric patients should be treated in institutions. The individual advocated for the creation of a new type of institution where patients could spend their day socializing with others. Other community residents rejected the policy of developing group homes in the community, and one suggested placing women offenders in the countryside:

So, you know when they tell me that they have to be in a community, as far as I'm concerned they could be out on a farm with nobody for miles around and commute to their jobs. They have to do a lot to convince me that it's necessary for them to be brought up in the community.

Other community residents supported this view and recommended placing people outside the normal confines of a community in a "neutral zone" and not in a neighborhood.

Two other community residents supported group homes in areas that have been zoned for institutions. They suggested that group homes should be located in commercial or industrial areas where there were hospitals and other institutions already. Another community resident argued that Mansfield Services should have built the group home in an area zoned for institutions. It is important to note that in the three cases, only two respondents (a supporter and a group home developer from the same case) defended the current location of the group home. They believed that their community was a good place for a group home. Both disagreed with the argument for placing clients from lower socioeconomic backgrounds into group homes in poor neighborhoods. The developer of the Grandeville Group Home argued that despite the fact that the group home residents were poor and from the "inner city," they were also capable of enjoying the "birds and beautiful trees," as one's appreciation for beauty did not take a special talent.

Failure of Social Integration

The second major finding of the study was the community's lack of support for the integration of deinstitutionalized people. Although previous research does not identify social integration as an important issue of the NIMBY phenomenon, findings from this study suggest that community perception of social integration of people living in group homes is an important element for understanding this social problem. Three of the four groups interviewed (opponents, supporters, and group home developers) questioned the feasibility of integrating deinstitutionalized people into the community. Although only five respondents (four supporters and one elected official) defended social integration as a realistic goal, nine respondents (six opponents, two supporters, and one group home developer) stated that integration was impossible. They identified the following issues as barriers to integration: the group home residents were unable and unwilling to integrate, the group home developers did not intend to integrate the resid ents, and integration did not benefit the community or the group home residents.

In all three cases respondents argued that people living in group homes were unable to integrate successfully into the community. Despite the variation in the cases studied, the majority of community residents (six of seven opponents) and one supporter argued that group home residents would never become "normal" and function like other people in the community. In two cases, the Mansfield group home and Foyer Flanders, opponents alleged that people living in the group home always would remain dependent, unable to function on their own. An opponent of Foyer Flanders described why integrating people with psychiatric problems into the general community was impossible:

They're not able to function. They don't function. They have to always be supervised. I'd say they're not able to live alone in an apartment, even if they've lived in this group home for years. They can't live alone.

Other respondents argued that the structure of the group home did not allow for integration. They attributed the frequent staff rotation and the absence of a father or mother figure as obstacles to integration.

Community residents also stated that the people in the group homes would never integrate because of their socioeconomic backgrounds. They argued that a fundamental incompatibility existed between the group home residents' low socioeconomic status and theirs (upper middle class) and they claimed that placing these people in their community was unfair:

I don't know what they're (Grandeville Group Home) trying necessarily to achieve. I'm not sure that it's very fair to take a group of people that may be in there for [ldots] because of their illegal reactions to [ldots] in certain cases, to poverty, and put them in a home where they can look out their windows and watch people back out of their driveways driving their Jaguars and their BMWs. I suspect that may be a little bit irritating. I mean if I was in a home like that I'm not sure that it would exactly set me on the straight path to rehabilitation.

It is important to note that this stance was not exclusive to opponents of the group homes. A supporter of Foyer Flanders also believed that former psychiatric patients had difficulty integrating, saying that having been institutionalized for long periods, they were more vulnerable than normal people and often felt more secure in a hospital setting.

Other respondents argued that the group home residents did not always want to integrate. The developer of the Mansfield group home admitted that not all people with cognitive disabilities wanted to be integrated. They felt self-conscious and uncomfortable participating in routine community activities. Two community residents adopted a similar position. They stated that people living in the group home spent little time in the community, used the group home as a hostel and thus were not interested in becoming integrated. Five of seven community residents stated that the group home developers did not intend or expect to integrate the group home residents into their community. They felt misled and condemned the group home developers for lying to them about integration. They maintained that even the group home developers never expected to integrate people into the community. That the residents of the community had been lied to about the integration of the group home residents was stated emphatically:

They didn't integrate anywhere. They're basically like modules stuck out in space where the girls commute to and from, that's where they live. And then when they're not living they have to work. They have to go out to work. They're not working in the neighborhood. They're not working in the community. They're working wherever they work, downtown or wherever. So the hypothesis that they integrate completely, it's a lie basically. It's just not true.

This position also was put forth by supporters of different group homes. In the case of the Mansfield home, supporters felt that the children would never integrate because they had no contact with the community. In the case of Foyer Flanders, supporters predicted that former psychiatric patients would never integrate into the community and that community residents would never initiate contact with the residents of the group home. Thus integration would be difficult, if not impossible. Finally, one group home developer acknowledged that integration was "tough" and was the second biggest obstacle group home developers faced after moving people out of institutions.

The final argument raised against integration was "who benefits?" Four of the seven opponents stated that having the group home residents live in their community did not benefit anyone. Community residents argued that people living in group homes were not involved in the community and thus were not "useful." Others criticized the group home developers for "parachuting" people into an environment that "didn't want them and vice versa." Community residents concluded that even after many years of living in a group home, group home residents would be unable to contribute successfully to the community.


The findings of this study offer a new perspective on community opposition to group homes. The arguments presented in opposition to group homes provide insight into the complicated dynamics of developing community-based residences for groups of people with special needs and those heavily dependent on social services. Although the findings reflect primarily the opposition's viewpoints, I presented them intentionally to better explain why residents in communities in which group homes have been started oppose the group homes.

The major finding is the community's lack of support for deinstitutionalization and social integration policies. These issues have not been addressed in earlier research on the NIMBY phenomenon, and thus it is difficult to link these findings to existing literature. In this study community residents not only opposed the group homes, but also overwhelmingly rejected the underlying philosophy of deinstitutionalization and questioned the feasibility of social integration. Although community residents may have rationalized their opposition, they did raise several important and relevant questions about the unstated rationale for deinstitutionalization and the use of group homes. Community residents presented a convincing argument against deinstitutionalization. They challenged the underlying objective group homes--the roles and functions of the group home, its residents and staff, and the responsibility that citizens have in supporting group homes. Oppenents also questioned the fundamental goal of group homes--th e integration into the community of deinstitutionalized people.

The findings of this study raise many questions and have important implications for social work practice. How do social workers expect to integrate deinstitutionalized people into communities that are unwilling to accept them? How can integration occur when contact is not initiated among professionals, the group home, and community residents? How realistic is the goal of social integration for people who have lived in institutions for most of their lives? On the basis of this information, what strategies should social workers develop to deal with the NIMBY phenomenon?

This study has demonstrated the necessity for social workers and policymakers to acknowledge community residents' concerns, because they are not based on hypothetical situations (as in attitude studies) but are grounded in the actual experience of having a group home in the neighborhood. To date people's opinions on deinstitutionalization and social integration have remained largely unacknowledged by the social work profession. In addition, there is the reality that current social policies clearly identify deinstitutionalization and nonhospitalization as a priority for services delivery and social work interventions. In Canada, as in the United States, recent social policies support the shift to the community (Government of Qu[acute{e}]bec, 1989,1992; Montreal Regional Health Board, 1995, 1997). In Montreal, Canada, the Minister of Health and Social Services announced plans to reduce the number of beds for psychiatric patients by 3,000. The objective during the next five years is to transform existing servic es from a 64 percent institutional and 36 percent community-based formula to 40 percent institutional and 60 percent community based. To achieve this objective, the following priorities have been identified: access to adequate housing; crisis intervention 24 hours a day, seven days a week; access to treatment in the community; rehabilitation and social integration services; and support services for families and caregivers (Government of Quebec, 1997).

Clearly, social workers must continue to play a crucial role in developing community-based housing as the need for different forms of housing, particularly for those being transferred from institutions, increases in the future. To implement a full range of housing alternatives that are appropriate for the residents and acceptable to host communities, social workers must refocus their strategies. Social workers must re--examine how they deal with negative community reaction and opposition to group homes. The present method of dealing with opposition on a case-by-case basis may be viable no longer. As professionals mandated to support and maintain people away from institutions, social workers must develop a more broadly based strategy Social workers must innovate and propose new structures for involving community residents, because old models are no longer effective. New steps must be taken to open up the debate on deinstitutionalization and social integration. Most important, a concerted effort must be made t o listen to community residents' concerns about these social policies.

The fundamental issue emerging from this study is the incongruity between ordinary citizens who do not support existing social policies for services-dependent groups and policymakers who advocate the community as the best place for these groups to live. These findings suggest that policymakers must re-evaluate how deinstitutionalization and integration are implemented. The debate over the feasibility of deinstitutionalization and social integration of services-dependent groups is one that involves all citizens. Every effort must be made to open up this debate so that citizens and policymakers begin listening to each other. Getting communities to accept people who are different is a long-term project, requiring a long-term investment and commitment from everyone. Understanding the different perspectives and experiences of those directly involved in community opposition to group homes may be an important step in the right direction.


This study focused on why community residents opposed group homes. Although the cases studied involved three different communities in Montreal, Canada, and three different group homes for deinstitutionalized people, several themes emerged: Community residents opposed the development of the group homes because they did not support deinstitutionalization and social integration policies. This finding has fundamental implications for social workers and their interventions with deinstitutionalized people and the communities in which they live. Given that the need to develop stable community-based housing for deinstitutionalized people is bound to increase in the future and that social workers will be responsible for developing these new resources, social workers must as a first step begin listening to the concerns of community residents and collaboratively begin to develop alternatives.

In contrast to earlier studies, which relied solely on the group home developer's perspective, this study intentionally sought the community residents' viewpoints. It should be noted that although the sample was small and not representative, it was selected on the basis of specific criteria. Future studies should be undertaken to investigate other cases of the NIMBY phenomenon in communities informed ahead of time and for group homes for people with AIDS and for homeless people, because less is known about these more recently labeled services-dependent groups. Finally, although generalization was not an objective of this study, the cases studied may serve as exemplary cases from which specific findings may be applied to other comparable situations of community opposition.


Myra Piat, PhD, is associate researcher, Severe and Persistent Illness Program, Douglas Hospital, Qu[acute{e}]bec, and adjunct professor, School of Social Work, and lecturer, Department of Psychiatry, McGill University, Montr[acute{e}]al. Send correspondence to Douglas Hospital, 6875 LaSalle Boulevard, Verdun, Qu[acute{e}]bec, Canada H4H 1R3; e-mail:


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 Descriptive Summary
Variable Foyer Flanders Group Home
Clientele by type of adults and elderly children with multiple
disability people with chronic disabilities, ages 11 to 17
 psychiqtric problems
Number of residents in 8 8
group home
Average length of stay of long-term long-term
residents in group
Location of group residential working middle-income residential
home (socioeconomic class Italian commun- community
status) nity
Description of group duplex, semide- large single-family dwelling
home tached next to adapted for people with
 single family homes disabilities (ramp)
Strategy used to open low profile low profile
group home
Variable Group Home
Clientele by type of women offenders
Number of residents in 20
group home
Average length of stay of 2-6 months
residents in group
Location of group residential upper-income
home (socioeconomic area, single-family homes
Description of group beautiful large home, well
home maintained
Strategy used to open low profile
group home
NOTE: long term means a stay longer than 12 months.
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Author:Piat, Myra
Publication:Health and Social Work
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2000
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