Kosher group home to open here next year

Kosher group home to open here next year

Squirrel Hill’s first kosher group home for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities is slated to be up and running by mid-2014.

The home, which will provide 24-hour care, seven days a week in an environment that celebrates Jewish culture, is a project of Jewish Residential Services, working in collaboration with Verland Community Living Arrangement, a nonprofit that currently runs 42 other group homes, mostly in Allegheny County.

This will be Verland’s first project in the city of Pittsburgh.

A contract has been signed for the purchase of a ranch-style house in the heart of Squirrel Hill, with the closing of the property scheduled for December, according to Deborah Friedman, executive director of JRS.

JRS and Verland declined to announce the address of the property, preferring to wait until the sale has been finalized.

The home, which will house three young adults, will have a kosher kitchen and will serve Shabbat meals, Friedman said.

While the home will be operated and staffed by Verland, a company with 550 employees, JRS will ensure that the home maintains a Jewish culture.

“It’s our job to make sure that it’s a Jewish home, and that Jewish culture and tradition are honored within the house, and to help ensure that the people who live there are included in the life of the Jewish Squirrel Hill community,” Friedman said.

One does not have to be Jewish in order to live in the home, she said, but residents should be those who would “benefit from this environment.”

The house, which will be for residents with IQs below 70, who also may have secondary disabilities, will be remodeled to accommodate those in wheel chairs.

Residents of the new home have not yet been chosen. In fact, the application process has not even begun. After reviewing applications, the three residents will be chosen based on their care needs, whether they have the proper public funding, and how well the three who are ultimately selected will be suited to live together.

The new group home will provide a service that currently is lacking in the Jewish community, Friedman said.

Years ago, children with disabilities were often sent away to live in institutions. Today, it is typical for those children to live at home with their families, attend neighborhood schools, attend synagogues, participate in Jewish Community Center activities, and be otherwise integrated into the community, Friedman said.

But when those children grow up, their options become more limited.

“They come to expect and desire to continue to be part of the Jewish community,” she said. “Traditionally, if they needed to live in a group home, they had to live outside of Squirrel Hill, and got cut off from their natural support system that was so important to them as kids.”

JRS has set out to address this need.

The collaboration with Verland will be JRS’ first program serving people with “such intensive care needs,” Friedman said.

JRS and Verland held an informational meeting regarding the new group home last week, which 35 people attended, Friedman said, demonstrating interest in the project.

“JRS has been looking at the needs of young adults in transition for several years now,” she said. “We’ve been aware that housing and the supports that go with it are what families care most about; it’s probably the most acute need.

“We’ve been searching for a long time for a way to do this that would work with our small agency, and yet keep those individuals in our community,” she continued. “Our hope is this is the first of many projects. If this is successful, we’ll be looking to replicate this and at other models as well.”

Verland has been operating group homes since 1978, and is philosophically aligned with JRS, said Carol Mitchell, president and CEO of the Verland Foundation.

In other JRS news, the agency, working with the nonprofit developer

ACTION-Housing Inc., plans to create 40 units of affordable housing for residents with special needs at the site of the old Poli’s restaurant in Squirrel Hill.

These residents will “have less intensive care needs” than those in the group home, Friedman said.

The Poli’s building was purchased at a sheriff’s sale for $435,000 in September.

The project at the Poli’s site should be completed in three to five years, according to Friedman.

(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at

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