Health
6:11 pm
Fri September 2, 2011

When the Fairweather Lodge Came to Moon Township

It started off simply enough. A house is for sale. Someone buys it. A few of the residents in a close-knit community are curious about who their new neighbors might be. Then they find out.

The Moon Township residents went to township meetings last winter and voiced their fears and concerns for their children and their property values. They spoke about patrolling their street with guns and installing surveillance cameras. They also started vitriolic blogs, put signs on their front lawns and threatened legal proceedings after they found out that a house on their street would become a Fairweather Lodge.

So what exactly is a Fair-Weather Lodge?

The Fairweather Lodge is a home that combines cohabitive living with collaborative employment. Quite simply, it's a residential house where people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness live.

The concept was developed by a psychologist, George Fairweather, in the 1960s with funding from the National Institutes of Mental Health. Studies found that when people with severe mental illness lived in the community, with other people and with an employment plan, they were more likely to thrive.

A typical house has four to eight people living in it, each with their own rooms. There is staff on call, but not in the house.

The house in Moon was purchased by Allegheny County's Department of Human Services and is operated by Transitional Services, a Homestead-based organization that provides support for people with mental health and intellectual disabilities.

Sharon Alberts is Transitional Services's CEO. Before the lodge opened she spoke to the Township Supervisors not move in until the March zoning board meeting.

"I think this incident really shook me in a way—I don't want to say it made me afraid, but to me it was so vicious that they would put signs up there knowing that they were moving in, that people would see those, that they didn't care," she said.

People who oversee Fairweather Lodges say that what happened in Moon was extreme—but it's not the only place where it's happened. It's not even the only place where it's happened in Pennsylvania.