The presence of two group homes for people recovering from mental illnesses on the same street in Gilbert has set some neighbors on edge.
Miranda Ashton lives in an area between these two houses with her husband and four children, ages 2 to 8. Both homes areon a side street near Val Vista Drive and Guadalupe Road and are owned by the Mesa-based Marc Center.
She said she understands that there's a need for these homes. "It's a hard job that they're doing, and it's one of those things where you feel bad for complaining, but I also want to make sure my family is safe," she said.
No residents of either house have harmed anyone or created any disturbances in the roughly two years they've been her neighbors, she said, but the men who live in one of the homes have made her nervous.
"As far as I know they haven't done anything wrong, but they make me nervous because they're always out there, and they're watching my kids," Ashton said.
Patient confidentiality rules make it difficult for her to know how the men wound up living in a group home. "They're not sex offenders; that's all they will tell me," she said.
Gilbert's land development code requires group homes to be located at least 1,200 feet away from each other and to register with the town's development services department.
The Marc Center didn't fill out that paperwork for either property. There are approximately 100 registered group homes in Gilbert, town spokesman Garin Groff said.
The town code also outlines a process by which group homes can seek a "reasonable accommodation" from the zoning administrator, in accordance with the federal Fair Housing Act.
The Marc Center was granted this accommodation in August.
Town Manager George Pettit said it was the first time a group home requested an accommodation from the town.
"Ideally, people would comply with the rules, because it's a self-reporting system - we don't know how many group homes might be out there," he said.
Pat Gilbert, chief administrative officer for the Marc Center, said the two homes were handed over to the nonprofit organization through a state Department of Health Services program that identifies where there is a need for group homes and works with groups that apply to open the home.
Gilbert said the employee who was responsible for the two homes near Val Vista and Guadalupe when the Marc Center acquired them has since died, so it's unclear why they weren't registered at that time.
In general, Gilbert said the Marc Center has positive relationships with the municipalities in which it operates. It has 34 group homes throughout the Valley, eight of them acquired through the DHS program.
Regarding the town's spacing requirement for group homes, "we would take the state's position that in terms of the 1,200-foot limit, these cities don't have as much authority to regulate as they generally think they do," Gilbert said.
Gilbert said that these group homes feature an independent-living option for patients recovering from mental illnesses who are not considered a danger to the community.
He said he could not go into more detail on the illnesses faced by the residents without breaching patient confidentiality rules.
"This isn't an exotic population we're talking about here," Gilbert said. He added that the center plans to do more community outreach in the neighborhoods where the homes are located.
Ashton said the situation has left her with a level of disappointment in town officials and mistrust for the Marc Center. She feels that someone at the town should have caught the situation sooner, rather than relying on complaints from the public.
As for the Marc Center, "They're probably a company that's doing a lot of good things for people, but in my mind they're always going to be a company that tried to break the law," she said.