March 7, 2009

Coming Soon: St. Andrews Village, Abita Spring, Tammanay Parish, Louisiana?


When I think of Louisiana, I admit that my mind wanders to thoughts of chain gangs and brutality, to folksy wisdom and the KKK. Somewhere in all that thinking I consider cajun culture and music, red beans and rice, and swamps, bayous and 'gators. What I don't think of is innovation.

More recently, however, I am forced to consider a new wrinkle that could have a wider effect on the lives of persons with disabilities, especially as the economy grows more and more frail. Because, in Louisiana, just now, this year, Donna Breaux, Tammanay Parish, and the Weyerhauser Corporation have put their heads together to bring back the colony concept for the warehousing of mentally challenged adults.

The "village" is to be located on the wetlands of Abita Spring, Tammanay Parish, and the place will provide jobs for at least 100 folks. And then there are the residents. Narrowing the focus just a bit, let me say that Donna Breaux is spearheading a project in Louisiana that will create a "village" for the mentally disabled, in an attempt to answer parental concerns over the fate of their disabled children once the parents have died. 

Christine Bordelon, reporting for the Clarion Herald, reports that "The number of adults with disabilities is increasing as the service system for people with disabilities evolves. Independent living and 
at-home services will become alternatives to institutions and group homes. "It allows for that choice that was
 missing in congregate life," [Donna]Breaux said. "It's a way for people to maintain independence but at the
 same time have support."  In the past, colonies for the disabled have inexorably morphed into prisons, thus making moot any idea of independence. I think Ms. Breaux is woefully under-informed or deluded by "it can't happen here" thinking..

As hard as we have all worked for social rights, for Independent Living and for in-home consideration, the return to "colony life" is a distinct step backwards. The notion that the disabled, housed out in the swamps of rural Louisiana, would be welcomed and subsequently well-cared for, leaves me breathless with horror. 

But, perhaps I am wrong here. Perhaps I am too cynical in my assessment of things. And why should I care anyway... what does this have to do with E.?

In the 19th century, epilepsy was considered a part of a diagnoses of retardation and or mental illness. So, if the folks being sent to St. Andrews to live and habillitate, fall into that broad category, how long before it swallows up persons with E.??? 

(Double click the image to see how the residences have been planned for colonists...)
According to Donna Breaux, the plans for this colony have been inspired by the "successes" in Texas, Alabama and Illinois. I wasn't aware that these states could boast any success stories for their historic experiments. Still, above is a photo of just an Abilene, Texas State Asylum for the Epileptic. It makes use of the village or colony system...

Still, there is one bright spot: according to Ms. Breaux, she and her group are waiting on the Army Corps of Engineers to give the final OK to the project. It seems that the Corps is analyzing the planned development for potential ecological impact on the wetlands. The planners say they will not impact the wetland ecology at all.

 That seems hard to believe...

We can all hold our breath to see what becomes of the project. I have my fingers and toes crossed that it will not happen. I really don't want to see those kinds of residences return nor do I want to see an end to Independent Living because of them. I realize that Abita Spring might have a desire to see the plan approved, because they are a community of just under 2,000 people with a rural economy ... the economic benefit of establishing a long-term facility for the care and segregation of the mentally challenged might seem like a gold mine. But, we are living in the 21st century now!!!

This kind of colony no longer has a meaningful place as an alternative for us. 

Perhaps a prison or waste site might be a better plan...  


5 comments:

Diane J Standiford said...

Seems there is a middle ground...somewhere, but I agree with you: there is something horrific about a "colony" aspect here. Let's hope we are wrong...

Diane J Standiford said...

I am highlighting your blog on mine tomorrow. You do a great job.

rickismom said...

I have often thought that a rural village, yet NEAR -to-town village, with invidual housing for couples, and job opportunities both In AND OFF site- might be a viable way to make independent living as couples more plausible for those with serious needs for support. But I am imasgining a setting where there are family members that care, and your post certainly does light up some red lights for me.....

Paula Apodaca said...

Paula: Here in Iowa we used to have what was called "Poor Farms", for the old, feeble minded, indigent people! They still have them yet, but they're called "Care Centers". They used to have if you remember, gardens to tend, hogs to feed. cattle to feed & milk. So that they could get all the work out of the poor "Dummies" that they could. They were treated like slaves. Now we have modern facilities, like nursing houses to house and support these poor unfortunate souls, who have no where to go. They help in the kitchen preparing the meals, help in the laundry washing clothes etc. The ones who are housed here now are able to care for themselves, with the supervision of nurses and aides who attend to their medications etc. I find the story of this lady in Louisiana a little on the shady side. I notice it is not mentioned how this will be financed! Sounds to me like another gold digger, wanting to get in on a big slice of the pie!
Cousin Ronnie From Iowa

Meredith said...

Paula,

I am distraught by this news. I wish you would post some of your comments on the "colony" here: http://www.nola.com/news/index.ssf/2009/02/abita_springs_could_get_100acr.html

To my horror, the comments posted on The Times-Picayune were not only supportive of the community, but even actually mentioned putting a fence around the facility to "protect" the people living there! I am formulating my response to these comments to post on The Times-Picayune, but think you said it best "it leaves me breathless with horror"...