Nearly $400,000 from HUD will help the Orange Grove Center continue an ongoing project to replace aging group homes for its intellectually disabled clients.
Orange Grove plans to build two new group homes on a rural six-acre site on north Mountain Creek Road, said the center Deputy Director Diane Aytes. Each will house four clients now living in group homes on Glenwood Avenue, she said.
Most have been clients of Orange Grove, a private, nonprofit organization that helps adults and children with developmental disabilities, for many years, she said.
"The majority of them are going to be in the 50s and 60s," she said. "Over time, as the individuals have aged and have other medical conditions going on, they're no longer ambulatory and they're now in a wheelchair."
This is the third new group home in three years for Orange Grove, Aytes said. A four-bedroom home on Chandler Avenue in Alton Park opened last year and another four-bedroom site on Pinewood Drive near Standifer Gap is nearly ready to move into.
Orange Grove has 42 group homes throughout the city, and some are aging or ill-designed for their purpose, Aytes said.
"We started housing in the '70s. Many of the houses, we have to say, 'This house no longer works,'" she said.
Funding of $199,000 per home from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is just part of the $1.7 million it takes to build a home specifically for people with multiple disabilities.
"You have to have all the exit lighting, the wide doors, roll-in showers, large tubs that lifts can lift someone into. All of that is specialized equipment," she said.
Each home has round-the-clock staff and a live-in manager with his or her own apartment. The residents come to the Orange Grove offices downtown each day for day services.
Sandra Gober, manager of community development for Chattanooga's Neighborhood Services Department, said the HUD money comes to Chattanooga, which distributes it to agencies that apply for funding.
Neighbors in the area where the new homes are expected to open in July or August said they hadn't heard anything about the project.
"I know they've been doing some surveying over there," said Robert Pascal, who lives on Browns Chapel Lane next to the housing site.
He said none of his neighbors have mentioned the project, either, but added, "I think people would probably be against it."
Aytes said there's a lot of misunderstanding about Orange Grove's clients.
"There have been times people have been concerned, and they're, like, 'Oh, no, what are your people like?'"
"We invite them to see our facilities and encourage our residents to be a part of the community. The individuals we serve want to be treated like anyone else would. They have pleasures in life, they like to get out in the community, they like to be recognized, acknowledged, spoken to."
Judy Walton has worked 25 years at the Chattanooga Times and the Times Free Press as an editor and reporter focusing on government coverage and investigations. At various times she has been an assistant metro editor, region reporter and editor, county government reporter, government-beat team leader, features editor and page designer. Originally from California, Walton was brought up in a military family and attended a dozen schools across the country. She earned a journalism degree ...