BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – A group home in New Roads is filing a lawsuit against Pointe Coupee Parish.
Believe Therapeutic Group Home LLC. was created to house local children who “Louisiana has determined need intensive psychiatric or psychological treatment in a 24-hour structured environment,” according to the lawsuit.
But after a Sept. 13, 2022 parish council decision rejected Believe’s request to function as a group home, the care facility sued to overturn the decision.
Attorney John Adcock, of Adcock Law LLC represents Believe. He said Point Coupee allowed the home’s organizers to open an identical facility in 2019 without incident.
“Then they passed a zoning ordinance that did not allow group homes or congregate living anywhere in the parish,” Adcock said.
He explained which aspect of the zoning ordinance affected Believe’s request to open its doors, “So, my client wants to open a second home, but they’re being told they can’t do that because they have too many people in the home. The ordinance says you can only have four people in the home, but they had 10.”
Adcock said Believe was told they could appeal the decision by bringing a reasonable accommodation request before Pointe Coupee’s Planning and Zoning committee.
“We did that,” Adock said, “But they denied our request.”
His filing cites:
- the federal Fair Housing Act.
- the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- the Louisiana Equal Housing Opportunity Act.
- state public accommodations law.
- Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
What the group home hopes to accomplish
In legal documents filed with the U.S. Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, Believe claims that the parish’s decision, “denied needed housing opportunities to children with disabilities in Pointe Coupee Parish” and that it left his client with, “out-of-pocket damages, loss of profits, loss of business reputation, and a loss of civil rights.”
Adcock explained Believe’s purpose and goal: “Rather than having kids from this area locked up in an institution, hospital, or jail you have them in the community where they can interact with others in the community. So, when they age out at 21, they won’t be complete strangers to the community.”
He added, “My client believes that people who want to help at-risk kids should not have to fight this hard to do so. It shouldn’t be this hard to open up a group home for kids.”
Pointe Coupee Parish’s concerns
Pointe Coupee Parish has yet to respond to a Tuesday, May 30 request for comment.
Minutes from the Sept. 13, parish council meeting shed light on the reason for Pointe Coupee’s decision.
Chairman Dustin Boudreaux said during the meeting, “I think these facilities are needed in certain places.”
He said, “I guess my comment is that congregate housing, according to what we have adopted here in zoning, is permitted in the parish, just not in the rural ag where this house is located.”
Another speaker later indicated that running a group home for children in a rural area might have negative safety consequences. They pointed out that should something go wrong at a group home with 10 children and only one or two adults in supervisory roles, there may not be enough area law enforcement to help out in such a rural area.
Another speaker, identified in the minutes as Ms. Wells, brought up additional safety concerns related to area residents.
“I do oppose that therapeutic center being in the area that they want it to be located, again, because we are thinking about the wellbeing of the residential people, the area, because they are elderly people in that entire area,” Wells said.
According to Believe’s legal filings, the chief of police debunked crime rumors tied to the existing group home and said most of the residents are “good kids” who need male role models.
Adcock maintains that Believe’s goal is noble and should be supported by local government and expects a trial to be set in 2024.
Adcock said, “If we want to help kids who need help, then parish governments need to loosen their belts and give them that help. Moreover, if the parish wants to violate the federal law, that can be very expensive for them.”