INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana's budget crunch has become so severe that some state workers have suggested leaving severely disabled people at homeless shelters if they can't be cared for at home, parents and advocates said.
They said workers at Indiana's Bureau of Developmental Disabilities Services have told parents that's one option they have when families can no longer care for children at home and haven't received Medicaid waivers that pay for services that support disabled people living independently.
Marcus Barlow, a spokesman for the Family and Social Services Administration, the umbrella agency that includes the bureau, said suggesting homeless shelters is not the agency's policy and workers who did so would be disciplined.
However, Becky Holladay of Battle Ground, Ind., said that's exactly what happened to her when she called to ask about the waiver she's seeking for her 22-year-old son, Cameron Dunn, who has epilepsy, autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Holladay, a school nurse, said she and her husband would go bankrupt trying to pay for services themselves, so Cameron spends most days sitting in his stepfather's truck while he works as a municipal employee.
"It's heart-wrenching as a parent to watch it. We are people and they are people," Holladay said, referring to her son and others with disabilities. "They have lives that are worth something."
There have been no confirmed cases of families dumping severely disabled people at homeless shelters because Indiana wouldn't provide the care needed.
But some families have been on waiting lists for waivers for 10 years. The lists contained more than 20,000 names last month, and one advocacy group predicted they will only grow longer because Gov. Mitch Daniels ordered budget cuts that have eliminated 2,000 waiver slots since July.
Budget cuts also have resulted in the state moving foster children with disabilities to a lower cost program that doesn't provide services for special needs and eliminating a grocery benefit for hundreds of developmentally disabled adults.
Kim Dodson, associate executive director of The Arc of Indiana, said her group has received reports of state workers in several of BDDS's eight regional offices telling families to take disabled adults to homeless shelters. She speculated that the suggestion resulted from frustration among BDDS staff as families become more outspoken about the effects of state cuts.
"It is something we are hearing from all over the state, that families are being told this is an alternative for them," Dodson said. "A homeless shelter would never be able to serve these people."
State lawmakers said they also have received reports from several people who were told they could always abandon their adult children at homeless shelters.
Rep. Suzanne Crouch, R-Evansville, said she found it "deplorable that people are being told to go to a homeless shelter."
Leaders of several agencies serving homeless people across Indiana could not be reached for comment after business hours Wednesday.
Some parents said homeless shelters have also been suggested – or threatened – as an option by private care providers.
Daunna Minnich of Bloomington said Indiana Department of Education funding for residential treatment for her 18-year-old daughter, Sabrina, is due to run out Sunday. She said officials at Damar Services Inc. of Indianapolis told her during a meeting that unless she took Sabrina home with her, the agency would drop the teen off at a homeless shelter.
Sabrina, who's bipolar and has anxiety attacks, has attempted suicide, run away during home visits and threatened her older sister, Minnich said. Bringing Sabrina home isn't a viable option, but the two group home placements BDDS offered weren't appropriate, she said.
"I don't want to see the state of Indiana hasten her demise by putting her in a one-size-fits-all solution that will drive her to desperate acts," Minnich said.
Jim Dalton, Damar's chief operating officer, said he could not comment directly on any specific case but his nonprofit would never leave a client at a homeless shelter – even though it is caring for some for free after they got too old for school-funded services and haven't yet been granted Medicaid waivers.
"We're talking about youth that absolutely require services, and no one is willing to fund them anymore," Dalton said.