West Seattle Blog... » Opinion http://westseattleblog.com West Seattle news, 24/7 Fri, 28 Nov 2014 19:23:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Opinion: ‘… Most of the people in the room were afraid of ME’ http://westseattleblog.com/2011/11/opinion-most-of-the-people-in-the-room-were-afraid-of-me/ http://westseattleblog.com/2011/11/opinion-most-of-the-people-in-the-room-were-afraid-of-me/#comments Tue, 08 Nov 2011 09:45:29 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=90908 EDITOR’S NOTE: In the ongoing discussion over the Downtown Emergency Service Center plan for a 75-apartment building in Delridge to house homeless people living with mental illness, we have heard many voices – concerned neighbors, supportive neighbors, neighbors remaining neutral to try to coordinate discussion/information, neighborhood-group leaders, DESC executives, government funders. Not long after last month’s Delridge Community Forum about the project, we happened onto a Facebook note by a Delridge resident/community activist who was viewing the discussion through another prism: That of a person living with mental illness, who has experienced homelessness. She gave us permission to publish it as an opinion essay.

By Galena White
Special to West Seattle Blog

I attended the community meeting about the DESC project on October 11th. It was intended to serve as a bridge between the residents of my neighborhood and an organization that wants to build an assisted-living community in my neighborhood.

I understand that at the first public meeting for this project, there was significant resistance to the idea, mainly because residents were worried about the character of the residents-to-be. At the meeting I attended, there were some mentions of concern over whether the new residents would have sufficient access to health care and groceries, since our neighborhood is mostly residential and has few amenities. Unfortunately, I believe those concerns to have been weak justification for the anger, fear, and prejudice that was palpable in the room. I think that most of the people who attended were afraid that crazy homeless criminals were going to invade their community. The two women who sat at my table seemed extremely upset, saying that the project was unacceptable because it would be within a block of their homes and children.

One official mentioned that the other residents who live in DESC housing have an overall lower crime rate than the general populace, and also said that the crimes those residents had committed were mostly related to loitering, because they had been homeless. I’ve been homeless. I spent most of the time from 1998 to 2003 with nothing but a backpack (with no income for a lot of the time) or living in a van because I couldn’t afford an apartment.

I was eventually lucky enough to find housing in a similar project to this one, and then to graduate to a regular apartment which is funded in part by a national low-income-housing program. Many others are not as fortunate, because there are not currently enough buildings and not enough funding to provide help to those who desperately need it. Since I found housing, I’ve been attending college, going to therapy, volunteering in my community and trying to overcome my disability. My hope is to eventually have a good job, a garden, and the ability to travel. If organizations like the DESC had not been able to find cheap land to build housing, I might now only be dreaming of spending the day in the library to stay warm.

When the meeting had already gone over-time, the facilitator was scrambling to find a representative from the City of Seattle to answer a question about what it would be like to have mentally ill people living in the neighborhood. I wanted to stand up and speak, but she had specifically asked for replies from invited speakers – no doubt because she didn’t think that any of the community members had anything positive to say about the mentally ill. I would have stood, despite my crippling anxiety (and probably embarrassed myself by stuttering), to tell everyone in the room that I am mentally ill.

I live on Social Security payments, I’ve been a good tenant in my apartment building for almost four years (less than a block from many families with children), and I’ve been working to bring healthy food to the neighborhood for three years. I’m not employed, but I do volunteer in the community when my anxiety allows for it. I am higher-functioning, probably, than many of the putative residents would be – but it’s more important to recognize that I am a human being, in possession of emotions and enough awareness to recognize that most of the people in the room were afraid of ME.

I try to understand and work to overcome every prejudice and injustice in the world (especially the ones that I am inadvertently responsible for perpetrating), and so I’m used to shrugging off the negative emotions that others’ hatred inspires in me. It is still hard to ignore the very personal stigma of mental illness. I wish that I had stood up. I wish that there was something I could do to show the people there that I am one of those they fear, and yet they had nothing to fear from me. Most of the people in that room would have appreciated my efforts to bring fresh fruits and vegetables to my neighborhood, but some would pass up the opportunity to volunteer for my nascent produce cooperative because of their fear of my disability – of me.

I’m hard to deal with sometimes. I’ve hurt people’s feelings without meaning to, when my anxiety ramped my emotions to pitches I couldn’t handle. I’m not proud of that, and believe me, I’ve been working hard on it for years; but there are ways to handle the mentally ill, to handle me when I lose my cool. If you’re calm and logical and kind despite all irregularities, you can establish negotiations with almost anyone, even someone who’s out of mental balance. And even if you can’t, that’s no reason not to keep your own emotions in check. You, as a ‘mentally well’ person, have a responsibility to show some compassion and forbearance toward those who are not as fortunate as you.

It is painful for me to contemplate the misconceptions that some have about those who spend a great deal of time in mental anguish. We know that it would be wrong to say that a brown person, a person in a wheelchair, someone who spoke a different language, or an autistic person was unwelcome in our neighborhood. The thing that scares some of us is that we sometimes don’t know how ‘those people’ (which is how I heard some individuals at the DESC meeting refer to the mentally ill) will react. The truth is that it doesn’t matter how they will act at all. If they’re violent or committing a crime, you should call the police as you would for anyone else – and we already know that the future residents of a DESC building are less likely to commit crimes than many current residents of Delridge.

If they’re just yelling or acting weird, suck it up. I have been told many times, “Suck it up. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Put a smile on your face! Try to feel good about yourself. If people don’t like you, you don’t need them,” and various other aphorisms. Your reaction is what defines whether the world you live in is wholesome, or unsavory. If you’re worried about your children seeing strange behavior, you should explain mental illness to them in a kind and empathetic way; the same way you would explain why someone’s skin is a different shade than theirs, or why they only have one arm.

The fact is that it’s not easy to just make my brain stop making me depressed or stop flooding me with fear hormones. The people who don’t like me – I do need them. I need them to be kind to me when I’m having a nasty day, and I need them to not exclude me from society or try to stop housing from being built for me and people like me. I need to be able to tell everyone I meet that I have a mental illness, and that I may need their help today. If I can’t do that, then I’m never, ever, ever going to stop being afraid of other people, and I’m never going to get well and accomplish my goals. The last thing I need in addition to my Social Anxiety Disorder is to live in a neighborhood where I face prejudice.

Diversity is not just cultural, physical, or spiritual. Rights and kindness are not just for those who act the way you’re used to. Acceptance of individuality, and willingness to accept the quirks of others, are attitudes that can make the human race a more beautiful species. A few residents at the meeting, in their fear, shared a similar question; “Why Delridge? We’re trying to make this a better place. Don’t drag us down when we’re getting on our feet.” My response to that (if I could say it to everyone who has doubts) would be, “We dream of making Delridge a better place – and if we can make it one where the disabled are treated with generosity and kindness, we will have succeeded.”
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Galena White is founder of Delridge Produce Cooperative.

P.S. WSB does not run opinion essays often, but we are willing to consider them, if they involve a unique viewpoint on a distinctly West Seattle issue – this one, or another one. We’re reachable by e-mail at editor@westseattleblog.com.

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Our 4 questions for you: Answered them yet? http://westseattleblog.com/2011/06/our-4-questions-for-you-answered-them-yet/ http://westseattleblog.com/2011/06/our-4-questions-for-you-answered-them-yet/#comments Wed, 01 Jun 2011 08:15:06 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=74777 Can you spare a few minutes to help us evaluate the present and look to the future? We appreciate any time you can take to answer “4 Questions for You, from WSB.” Considering we buried the link’s debut at the end of a loooong story late Monday night, we’re heartened by how many people still managed to find it and use it. But in case you missed that link, here it is again. We hope you’ll consider taking a few minutes to answer those 4 questions sometime in the next few days (we’re only keeping it up for a week, figuring that most regulars will have seen it by then). Thank you!

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WSB guest opinion: Legislators take on health-care-reform claims http://westseattleblog.com/2009/11/wsb-guest-opinion-legislators-take-on-health-care-reform-claims/ http://westseattleblog.com/2009/11/wsb-guest-opinion-legislators-take-on-health-care-reform-claims/#comments Mon, 23 Nov 2009 05:30:44 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/blog/?p=22583 Opinion:
By State Rep. Eileen Cody
(D-West Seattle) and State Sen. Karen Keiser (D-SeaTac)
Chairs of the Washington House and Senate Health Care Committees

Many senior citizens are concerned about the impact health care reform will have on them. They’ve been targeted by opponents of federal health care reform with false and misleading claims.

One fear is that reform will come at the expense of Medicare benefits or other current coverage. The fact is, Medicare was created by our government more than 40 years ago out of the belief that no one should go without health care once they reach retirement age. That commitment will not change. Neither will benefits.

Current reform efforts aim to improve Medicare’s finances so it will remain viable for generations to come. If we don’t take action now to reduce fraud, abuse and insurance company overpayments, it’s estimated that by 2017 the money Medicare spends on benefits will exceed its income. Seniors would then have to pay more or they would receive fewer Medicare benefits. Health care reform legislation will improve Medicare’s finances.

Reform legislation would also help older Americans who are not enrolled in Medicare by making it illegal for insurance companies to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. The bills in both chambers also require insurance companies to cover routine screenings for preventive care such as diabetes, osteoporosis and colonoscopies with no out of pocket costs. And both bills would end age discrimination by making it illegal for insurance companies to charge ridiculous rates for people just because they are older.

One of the biggest concerns for seniors on Medicare is the notorious “donut hole” in their prescription drug coverage. If passed, health care reform would fix the problem and provide brand name drugs for half the cost for those who enter the gap.

We have almost 900,000 Medicare beneficiaries in Washington state. This year, Medicare is expected to pay nearly a quarter more for the average patient in traditional Medicare in Florida than for a Medicare patient in Washington. However, the higher rate of reimbursement in Florida doesn’t result in better health outcomes. Our state has a tradition of more efficient, lower cost care that produces better outcomes. Our providers should not be punished for being efficient.

The comparison is even more striking for rural areas of Washington. Because of the low rates paid to physicians and other providers, many seniors enrolled in traditional Medicare are having trouble finding a doctor. Many physicians are only accepting Medicare Advantage patients because they receive higher payments through those arrangements.

Both the House and Senate health care reform bills include a way to “level the playing field” and create more equity in Medicare reimbursement across the country. That means our providers will be receiving a higher rate of reimbursement for Medicare when reform is implemented. And the unfair advantage of Medicare Advantage private insurance plans would be reduced.

Senator Maria Cantwell and Representative Jay Inslee have worked long and hard on this critical element of making health reform fair to our provider community. In addition, the restoration of scheduled cuts to Medicare reimbursements is one of the many reasons why the American Medical Association endorses health care reform.

Implementation of some of these proposed changes─ such as closing the prescription “donut hole”─ could begin as early as next year. Others would come into play in 2014.

The nation’s leading advocate for seniors, AARP, has endorsed the House health care reform bill because it knows the legislation would be good for all Americans. And here in Washington, a recent poll of AARP members found 68 percent of them support national health reform.

Attempts to create anxiety among seniors have been one of the more distressing elements of this year’s health reform debate. Last August notorious “death panels” were promoted, and in the next few weeks, as the final phase of the debate begins, we will no doubt see many more alarmist and misleading charges. But please don’t be misled─ both health care reform bills have tremendous benefits for seniors.

WSB will consider op-ed essays by West Seattleites for possible publication. We suggest you query first – editor@westseattleblog.com – thanks!

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WSB guest opinion: “We can end homelessness, but …” http://westseattleblog.com/2009/10/wsb-guest-opinion-we-can-end-homelessness-but/ http://westseattleblog.com/2009/10/wsb-guest-opinion-we-can-end-homelessness-but/#comments Thu, 15 Oct 2009 09:30:59 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/blog/?p=21544 With comments after every story, plus the Forums section, there are many channels for your opinion here on WSB. But sometimes, as happened last year with the Alaskan Way Viaduct, you have something longer to say, in the style of the print-media “op-ed piece.” After we recently wrote that WSB is open to “op-ed” pitches from West Seattleites, we received this, about the touchy, urgent, difficult topic of homelessness, from Highland Park’s Dorsol Plants:

Opinion: By Dorsol Plants

Within the last couple of weeks, the issue of homelessness has been one of the things at the forefront of the political activities going on in the city. This is fitting, since last week seems to have been the first signs of a cold winter. Even before the economic crisis, there were over 2,000 men, women and children counted sleeping outside on a cold January night, and with the effect of the recession still being so profoundly felt, we can expect this January’s One Night Count numbers to be even higher.

With Seattle’s shelter system already turning away people at night, what are we going to do? Is ending homelessness viable and is it something the city can do in 10 years as promised?

So far we have heard two sides to this argument, each trying to explain why the problem of homelessness is getting worse and not better. The stance that many homeless advocates have taken has been that the City isn’t doing enough in the way of funding for shelters and permanent housing. They say that if we are truly going to make a go at ending homelessness then we need to place more money into affordable housing and the burdened shelter system. The city’s stance however is that they are already doing as much as they can afford, and it’s time the County and other cities began to step up and handle their share of the problem.

There is truth on both sides of the argument. The city should provide more funding for human services, and if they were to look through the budget they could find ways to more efficiently provide more shelter with the money already in place. Yet the city is also raising a valid point. It is well past time for us to begin to discuss a National Plan to End Homelessness.

When you get right down to it, homelessness is about a lack of housing. Yes, there are a number of issues surrounding why someone is without a home. Those issues may include mental illness, job loss, or unexpected medical expenses. But all those issues are more easily worked while not fighting for your survival every night on the streets. There is no inherent reason why people who are experiencing these problems should not have housing.

The real problem is that there is no congruent plan. When it comes to affordable housing, funding from city, county, state, and federal levels all tie in at different points and various ways. To actually end homelessness, we can’t just try to throw together enough money to build enough houses or subsidize enough existing apartments. Rather, we need a plan — including timetables from the top down — that outlines the strategy for dealing with homeless at all levels.

This has to start at the Federal level so that from the State down to the Cities, funding and resources can be focused around need areas lacking in the federal plan. By clearly outlining and defining each role from the top down, one specific plan enables those plans under it to fill in the cracks left behind. This starts with creating a national chain of communication that breaks down the walls between Federal, State, City, Nonprofits, Faith-Based, and other homeless agencies.

This very idea came to several cities, and each drew up their own 10-year plans like the one we have here in Seattle. But it is unreasonable to expect cities to be able to work out this problem on their own, and that can very evidently be seen through the city’s demands for more help. Much as we wouldn’t expect the city of Seattle to be solely responsible for stopping global warming, we can’t expect that any real end to homelessness could come without looking at homelessness as a regional and national issue.

The change has to start somewhere; Seattle is in a good place to initiate it. For starters, Mayor Nickels has placed Seattle prominently onto the national stage on the issue of the environment and the next Mayor can use that to generate a conversation on the need to end homelessness. We must also correct the mistakes in our 10-year plan, plug the budgeting gaps and make a commitment not to remove any more funding until the crisis has passed.

Finally, we should set an example by allowing the sheer humanity of the issue affect the decision making process. We can do this by admitting there aren’t enough beds for everyone and allowing for the basic survival needs of all human beings. In part, this means providing Nickelsville a permanent site that will allow Nickelodeons to remain as a community until the cities of the region and the county have a chance to create enough shelter and housing to allow everyone to come inside.

We can end homelessness, but the only way we are going to be able to do that is by honestly reflecting on where we are as a city, by acknowledging that we won’t be able to do this alone, and by calling for a national movement to address this national issue.

Dorsol Plants is Homeless Veteran Employment Case Manager with the Compass Center (and a U.S. Army veteran himself). He also is former chair of the Highland Park Action Committee, and ran for Seattle City Council in this year’s primary. He is also Field Organizer for the Northwest Progressive Institute as well.

Got an opinion you’d like to share in a longer format like this? Send a note to bounce the idea off us: editor@westseattleblog.com

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