Committee hears debate over elderly-disabled housing concerns

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — Gail Sokolnicki spent her morning at her mother’s funeral and her afternoon testifying before lawmakers in Hartford about the assault that she says ended her mother’s mobility.

“This is my mom’s voice reaching out to help others,” said Sokolnicki to members of the Housing Committee Tuesday.

hearing 3 001 Committee hears debate over elderly disabled housing concerns

Sokolnicki and her mother, Helen Matulavage, told the story of an assault in Seymour’s Callahan House to the News 8 Investigators in November. Matalavage, 95, was assaulted by a mentally ill neighbor. She passed away on January 31.

“I reached out to multiple parties for help in this to prevent this happening to others but all efforts went to deaf ears. I often asked what if this was your loved one, would it be different,” said Matulavage in Tuesday’s hearing.

She was supporting two proposed bills that would tackle the issues most recently detailed by News8 in Elderly/Disabled Public Housing. One bill introduced by Seymour Representative Nicole Klarides-Detria would create separate living spaces for elderly and disabled tenants. Roughly half of Connecticut’s public senior housing is filled with young disabled tenants, according to Klarides-Detria.

“I certainly don’t want to discriminate, and that is not the intent of me wanting to do this. It’s just to make both populations happier. and live happy and healthy lives,” said Klarides-Detria.

The other bill, proposed by Representative Larry Butler (D-Waterbury), would require a closer study of the proposed policies in elderly/disabled housing. A similar proposal was introduced last year, but died in committee.

Despite support from members of the Committee and members of the public, both were controversial among many who testified. Department of Housing Commissioner Evonne Klein opposed both of the bills. The living spaces should not be separate, she argued, because that would violate Article 21 of the Constitution, which says “no person shall be … subjected to segregation or discrimination in the exercise or enjoyment of his or her civil or political rights because of … mental disability.”

Klein opposed studying the living conditions of tenants, citing a newly posted job at the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority that she said would address many concerns. The job posting describes responsibilities including security audits and assisting residents in “developing a safe peaceful living environment.”

Staff from Mental Health Connecticut, Connecticut Legal Rights Project, National Alliance on Mental Illness Connecticut and Connecticut Legal Services all opposed the plan to create separate living areas.

All of the bills that were part of Tuesday’s public hearing await votes from the committee.

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