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Ventura County

Disabled Protest Proposed Cutbacks


Thousands of developmentally disabled people in Ventura County turn to nonprofit agencies like Arc for self-reliance, learning skills from making breakfast to finding work.

But proposed budget cuts will force such organizations that receive state funding to turn people away, according to protesters at a Wednesday rally at the Ventura County Government Center. The gathering attracted more than 300 of the agencies' disabled clients, their care providers and supporters.

Simultaneous rallies were held in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Sacramento to protest Gov. Gray Davis' proposed $60-million reduction in the budgets of the Department of Developmental Services and the Department of Rehabilitation. The reduction will deny services to 5,500 people statewide, rally organizers said.

The state is facing an estimated budget shortfall of $17.5 billion.

Countering Davis' proposal, rally participants had a suggestion of their own: Support an Assembly bill that would reduce the population of the state's seven institutions for developmentally disabled people and redirect the funds to help them live in a community setting.

"We're trying to stimulate conversation," said Peggy Bishop of Work Training Programs. "A lot of people don't know that the programs are in jeopardy. They don't realize the importance of the threat to people's ability to live in the community."

About 20 people at the rally stood roadside, waving signs asking for support. Every now and then, a passing motorist offered a honk and a wave, eliciting cheers from the crowd. Some passersby joined the rally.

In an interview, Dwight Hansen, vice president of government affairs for the California Rehabilitation Assn., said that of the 185,000 Californians who are developmentally disabled, only 3,800 live in the seven state-owned institutions.

"The state spends 25% of the budget on 2% of the disabled population," he said. His group, an association of 135 nonprofits, is lobbying for support of Assembly Bill 896, which was passed by the Assembly and is now in the Senate Health Committee.

Proponents argue that the facilities are old and would cost nearly $3 billion to renovate. Housing someone in a state facility costs about $170,000 annually while the cost of services for people at board-and-care homes and other facilities in the community is $12,000 a year, they say.

"They should give regional organizations the funds and let the clients live in the community," Bishop said. Doing so, she said, would help the organizations overcome budget cuts.

Besides, supporters of the measure argue, people with disabilities should have the opportunity to live on their own.

"They're locked up in huge institutions," Hansen said. "Their lives are governed by somebody else."

"Many of these people [at the rally] spent much of their lives living in the state hospital in Camarillo before it closed," said Mary Kay, a local program director with Arc, a national network of community agencies that provides educational, vocational and residential services for people with developmental disabilities.

. "Now they're all out here, being a part of the community. Imagine the difference--now they can be out somewhere in the middle of the day, work, go out and make friends," Kay said.

Roy Perather, 64, moved from the hospital to a group home and now lives in his own apartment in Simi Valley. About the difference that living independently has made in his life, he simply says: "I am happy. I am so happy, I can't put it into words."

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