Opinion: ‘… Most of the people in the room were afraid of ME’

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.”
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.

76 Replies to "Opinion: '... Most of the people in the room were afraid of ME'"

  • Pete November 8, 2011 (6:22 am)

    Galena, thanks so much for being so open and sharing your story with our Delridge community. It takes a multitude of residents to make a community great and you for one are doing your part to help.Please keep being a part of the Delridge community that I care for so deeply.

  • TB November 8, 2011 (6:28 am)

    Wow, very nice Galena. Cut through the ignorance, the prejudice, the fear with an open vulnerable heart and get straight to the point. Thank you for sharing. Brava.

  • Momof3 November 8, 2011 (6:28 am)

    Beautifully written, Galena. I wish I had attended the meeting to support those seeking a more invlusive and diverse society.

  • seewhatsealionsstart November 8, 2011 (6:30 am)

    Thank you Galena for sharing your story and perspective. I think if people could remember the individuals behind whatever community they fear, we would be on our way to a more inclusive, compassionate society. If data and patterns show that crime incidents are lower in these communites then people would do themselves and the community good to remember something that is true verses the what-if’s that can be based in fear.

  • mm November 8, 2011 (6:46 am)

    That was beautifully said.

  • kim November 8, 2011 (6:59 am)

    Well said Galena, thank you for sharing. Don’t regret not speaking up, you are doing it now. I admire your bravery. The community will need time to understand, this is a step in the right direction.

  • CD November 8, 2011 (7:05 am)

    Beautifully written!!

  • WSMom November 8, 2011 (7:19 am)

    Thank you Galena. Your words touched me.

  • The Velvet Bulldog November 8, 2011 (7:27 am)

    Thank you Galena, for sharing your experience. You may not have stood up at the meeting, but you’ve stood up here, giving many people the opportunity to learn and gain a deeper understanding of your situation.

    I’ve met Galena and had no idea she was struggling with mental illness. I’ve only known her as someone working damn hard to get fresh produce to the Delridge community. We should all be so lucky as to have Galenas in our neighborhood.

  • neighborhood geek November 8, 2011 (7:52 am)

    I hope the community welcomes this project with open arms. They are so few and far between and very much needed. The World Health Organization reports that 1 in 4 people meet the criteria for mental disorders at some point in their life. “They” are us.

  • lina November 8, 2011 (7:53 am)

    beautiful written and well said. thank you galena for all you do for our community and for having the courage to tell your story.

  • Galena White November 8, 2011 (8:04 am)

    Thank you, everybody, for your kind words :-D

  • Melinda November 8, 2011 (8:05 am)

    Thank you for your wisdom.

  • sun*e November 8, 2011 (8:06 am)

    Very eloquently said. Thanks for sharing and opening our minds.

  • Bill November 8, 2011 (8:11 am)

    Hey, that’s me, too. I have been labeled as bipolar. That’s a mental medical condition … a medical condition that doesn’t involve physical disability or physical injury. It’s a genetic condition that runs in my family of origin. It’s no one’s fault. It’s certainly not my fault. I live with it “comfortably” now, but I too have been homeless as this silent stalker of the mind affects one’s ability to carry on many of life’s required functions. Namely, the ability to pay attention to what life requires. Keeping a job, maintaining relationships, and general self care. Bipolar illness is a depressive disorder with bouts of feelings of superiority and grandiose thinking. Been there. Done that. I still have to keep myself in check from time to time when I see my not infrequent periods of mood swings.

    From 1984 to 1998 I was either living with siblings (with the same problem) or living in my subcompact car. Don’t ask me how I survived, but I never did anything illegal. I’d oftentimes content myself by saying that life dishes out its fair share of challenges to everyone. My challenges weren’t so different than anyone else’s difficulties. Even Jesus was homeless.
    I passed through the Homeless Veterans Treatment Program in Tacoma, living there as an “outpatient” for a full year, 1989-1990. Then it was back to society, but no change in lifestyle. I’d been deemed “fit for duty.” Even as a resident on the hospital’s grounds from July to July of the following year, my underlying condition wasn’t recognized. But, I had been living in a vacuum, more or less, there where life’s demands were nonexistent. No stress and no apparent erratic mood changes. Back to the streets, but I still had my little car. That was my shelter for pretty much the next seven years. I even managed to secure employment as an insurance agent during that period, but when my employer found out I was using the office bathroom as my own, the job folded. I drove a Greyhound bus as a relief driver one summer, but life was too much stress. First I became tired, then discouraged, then all-out depressed. But I was a safe driver. That was my number one priority. After one summer season of marathon irregular assignments, I broke. I’m not sure if I just quit or if I had been sidelined by the company. Either way, I didn’t care.

    I returned from Alaska in the Fall, 1997 where I had been driving a tour bus. After that I took a job as a car salesman; that job lasted three months. Because of low sales, I was terminated the week after Christmas. That’s life in the life of a commissioned salesman.

    I’d been living in the Salvation Army’s William Booth Center near Sixth and Maynard bordering the International District when I decided my recourse was either to consider a self-termination (code talk for ending it all) or seek help. I went up to the Seattle VA and more or less begged the people in the Mental Health Clinic to see me. They did and I attended group therapy sessions twice a week for about a year. I did it because I was at the end of the line – I didn’t know what else to do. Fortunately, I was given the diagnosis of being bipolar. Call it what you may, I told myself, but I was just glad that someone recognized that I had been trying to live life with a disability. I’ll never forget my case worker’s reaction when I showed her my lifetime earnings history statement from the Social Security Administration. Her reaction was, “How have you lived?” Good question. I wondered as well. The synopsis of my financial life looked pretty dismal. But, that was me, a person with a bachelor’s degree and even some post-graduate work done decades earlier. All for what?

    Because I had served in the military during a time of war, because I had no resources, and because I now had a diagnosed mental condition, I was eligible for a VA disability pension. It changed my life. Though still below one thousand dollars a month, I’ve had a regular income and housing since that time some fourteen years ago now. I am most grateful. There is a God in heaven. I’ve managed to secure a full complement of necessary home accoutrements for my one bedroom apartment. Eighty percent of my household goods have come from private tag sales of one sort or another. I even scored a nice thing or two from storage unit auctions. And I’ve been a regular volunteer at the West Seattle Food Bank for the last ten years. It’s my life now. And never have I ever had any addiction issues. In the last two years, I doubt if I’ve consumed more than a six-pack of beer; but, it’s been the good brands.

    I am now sixty-six years old. I hate to think of how serious I was about discontinuing this pleasant journey called life. In order for people with mental disabilities to get better, they must have their bases covered. First and foremost that means stable housing, a minimal income, and community support. I see myself as a modest success story. Others deserve to have the same opportunity.

    By definition, people with mental health medical issues are not laggards, they are not addicts, and foremost they are not criminals. Those descriptors fit the general population just as readily as they’re so self-righteously applied to the mentally ill segment of our population. It’s unfair to say the least, and totally prejudicial. If you consider yourself so “better than,” ask yourself, “What would Jesus do?”

  • Amanda November 8, 2011 (8:13 am)

    I’ll stand up for you Galena. When’s the next meeting?

  • wren November 8, 2011 (8:17 am)

    Galena – I was blown away by your writing. Deeply moving and food for thought. You show great courage in speaking up.

  • Kayleigh November 8, 2011 (8:25 am)

    Thank you, Galena.

  • Joan November 8, 2011 (8:26 am)

    Beautifully and thoughtfully written piece, Galena. Thank you Tracy for the guest writer.

  • MyEye November 8, 2011 (8:28 am)


    Thank you so much for sharing your story and your desire for diversity. I think though that you assume that those that disagree with decision to stand against a poorly thought through project also stand against compassion for the mentally disabled.
    Delridge is already home to Navos Mental Health Solutions. And we are battling with high poverty rates. We are already home to more low income housing than the state would like to target for a given area. Add to the fact that there are very, very limited services in the area for the people who would be living at DESC results in only one conclusion. This isn’t the place for the site of the DESC facility. DESC building the site here wouldn’t be fair to the people who live there now and wouldn’t be fair to the people who would make DESC their home.

  • Howie in Seattle November 8, 2011 (8:38 am)

    Galena’s thoughts are very well formed and very well stated.

  • Kgdlg November 8, 2011 (8:40 am)

    Thank you for sharing this story. It is so easy for all of us to assume that “they” are outside of our community when the truth is that mental illness is something many of us struggle with right here in west Seattle already. You are brave to share your story and I am thankful to this blog for providing a platform for a well rounded discussion.

  • John November 8, 2011 (8:46 am)

    Galena, thanks for such a beautiful and moving story. It communicates so much more than all of us supporters of the DESC project using rational and factual responses to the opposition.
    I know it took tremendous courage to write and expose yourself as you have.
    To me, you are a true hero.
    There is no way I can sufficiently express my gratitude.
    I also wish to thank Tracy and WSB for providing the forum for such a heartfelt and emotional story.
    And I am heartened by the outpouring of support you have inspired.
    I hope we can build on it.

  • RenaissanceRed November 8, 2011 (8:49 am)

    We already have housing in West Seattle for severely mentally ill adults, I don’t feel that the housing on Avalon Way has detracted or caused any detriment to the neighborhood.

    Why not help those with mental illness get some monitoring with medication & consistent treatment, a safe place to live and some pride and dignity.
    Thank you Galena for speaking up…and sharing your story.

  • Teri Ensley November 8, 2011 (8:49 am)


    Thank you for your courage and accurate depiction of mental illness.

    DESC does amazning work. Our Seattle Community is lucky they exist!

  • work downtown November 8, 2011 (8:51 am)

    Very well stated Galena. I think what we all fear is the unknown. Keep up the good work. Everybody should be kinder to one another these days.

  • Harold A. Maio November 8, 2011 (8:55 am)

    I must say, I did not read this piece, I live it.

    Misconceptions about mental illnesses are a way of life for most Americans, and bread for a great many. the misconceptions produce dollars. Those dollars are highly attractive.

    Behind the misconceptions is a policy: “So long as we do not know, the dollars earned from not knowing will continue.”

    We researched polio, we ended its plague. We wanted to, we did.

    Mental illnesses we instead hid, in bricked fortresses, we did not want to see them, acknowledge them, simply hide them. The philosophy has largely continued.

    It is continued through a policy called “NIMBY.” Not in my backyard. Most people interpret that philosophy as neighborhoods in a city not wanting a group home, a clinic, a service that deals with emtnal illnesses, but it is actually much broader.

    Organizations looking into mental health issues, at whatever level, local state and federal, carefully exclude particular people from their neighborhoods, assuring stasis. It is not a new policy, excluding women prevented knowledge of them, excluding people of darker hue prevented knowledge of them, preserved a stasis desired by those at the table. Who gets to the table decides what happens, who is kept away becomes important to them.

    What do we know about mental illnesses, the people who deal with them: We know people recover, we do not know in what percentages, but the people at the table allowed “recovery” to be part of the discussion in the late 1990s. It has always been, but it was allowed at the table.

    We know that mental illnesses, like physical illnesses are ubiquitous, they affect the most as well as the least successful in our culture. We know individuals with a mental illness earn from the millions to far less, occupy every professional blue and white collared job, and win every award a society has to offer. We knew that of women and African Americans as well, but we would not allow the knowledge broadly, would not allow it culturally.

    By silencing one voice, we promoted another. It was and is a deliberate action, a policy. It harmed us as a culture, it harmed individuals within our culture, but preserved what had become dear to those at the table. We continue the policy, though two voices are now present, those of women who roared to be heard and those of African Americans who educated us to our prejudice. They have gotten to the table, they are now deciding who does not. Knowledge is still controlled, the policy ha not changed, only the participants at the table.

    In 1955 a journal article appeared, doctors who were no longer seeing a person diagnosed with schizophrenia believed someone else was. It was not so, recovery was occurring. the article made it clear, recovery was occurring. I have lost the article, but this week a similar article appeared making the same claim. Anyone who follows schizophrenia knows full well it is a disease of degree, that people recover from it, and even with symptoms regularly earn doctoral degrees, even a Nobel and a MacArthur award.

    The brick walls of the institutions are as solid as ever, I bang my head against them every day. They have continued on sites not remote from society, but deeply within it.

    Clearly the issue is not in the “seeing” but in deciding what not to see.
    “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 1. 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 2. the mentally ill.”
    We are of course already their neighbors, their supervisors at work, their educators at university, they know us as people. The promotion “the” mentally ill is precisely the promotion that silenced “the” Blacks, and why we are not invited to the table, it would ruin the prescribed discussion. Try that with breast cancer, you ladies at the table, try it with issues of Black people, you African Americans at the table. It worked against you, you are now practicing it. Intoxicating is it not, power, that is. It allows one a view, but limits it as well.

    How successful is the promotion “the” mentally ill? See Heller, 2008, and MacDonald 2010, the phrase arose from the pens of two Jews, one African American and six of the most educated legal minds in America, the US Supreme Court. It was ignored by every legal mind in America, every editor but one, an editor at a very small paper in Ft Myers Florida, and denied as news by the NY Times’ , the specific editor there copied above. It was acknowledged by their then US Supreme Court columnist Linda Greenhouse in a phone call to my home, thanking me for educating her, she has not spoken about it since, she a law professor at Yale. To no mental health advocacy has it been an issue, NAMI’s in house lawyer copied above, and to no mental health advocate, except myself. Nor is it yet an issue with the American Bar Association, also copied above, they have taken no action on it, though they have acknowledged awareness, John Parry copied above. A lawyer has offered me pro bono help in addressing it, but he has taken no substantive action, it remains at the “talk” stage.

    If one cannot get to the table, one cannot bring issues to the table. NIMBY is a powerful policy, one likely not to be surrendered for some time, no matter at what level it is practiced successfully. And the higher it is practiced the more tenaciously it is defended.

    A brick wall surrounds too many tables, ideas cannot get there.

    Harold A. Maio

  • Phil November 8, 2011 (8:59 am)

    Very brave and insightful, Galena. The topic of moving “others” into your neighborhood is often met with resistance and fear. Fear for the safety of your family. Fear of property devaluation. But mostly fear of the unknown. My wish is for the people at the meeting who displayed that fear to read your article. Get familiar with the unknown. Most people are far less frightening in person than they are on paper. Again, well put. You are an advocate for positive change and we could all learn something from your courage.

  • JenF November 8, 2011 (9:00 am)

    Thank you Galena and WSB for giving a voice to those who often don’t have a voice in issues like this.

  • J November 8, 2011 (9:09 am)

    Thank you, Tracy, for running this important part of the community discussion–not just the DESC discussion, but the broader conversation, as well. And thank you, Galena, for articulating this point of view that is very difficult for those of us without your experience to understand.

  • Tiff November 8, 2011 (9:12 am)


  • kmweiner November 8, 2011 (9:13 am)

    Thank you!!!

  • charlabob November 8, 2011 (10:18 am)

    Thanks to all of you who spoke up, so articulately. Your courage does make a difference…in ways you’ll never know.

  • Danny November 8, 2011 (10:23 am)

    It’s still a poor location choice for this housing. Sorry, I guess I’m just not ‘inclusive,’ but I think there are better options than this neighborhood and I will continue to stand against it.

  • Jim P. November 8, 2011 (10:50 am)

    Very nicely done and well spoken.

    There remain a few problems from my perspective:

    “If they’re just yelling or acting weird, suck it up” Not if it is ouside my window at 4 in the morning, or when acting weird involves running around naked in the street or masturbating in the bushes outside a school (things I have experienced elsewhere near similar care centers.)

    I am also skeptical about the lower crime rate. I’d want to see figures and the methodology used to determine them. The one in a hundred can more than make up for the others.

    I also wonder if the location is good simply because there really is nothing much else around. No medical support, no stores or entertainment etc. It seems a very sterile location for this sort of thing.

    The facitlity is not a prison. Therefore one must assume there will be people simply wandering about the neighborhood and bored, restless people of all sorts cause trouble.

    I would feel better about this plan if more attention was being paid to security. The young lady posting certainly does not seem a threat or a danger but she does not speak for everyone who will be living there.

    Many well-intended plans falter later. Budget cutbacks, lack of planning for problems and maintenance etc. What will happen in a few years if funds dry up and cutbacks are made but the more troublesome residents remain?

    I am not yet pursuaded this is a good idea for the community.

  • Kirsten November 8, 2011 (11:33 am)

    Galena, you are a rock star. I have mental illness too, and I have been living among you without incident for 8 years. Thank you for saying what I have been to fearful to say.

  • Aaron November 8, 2011 (12:31 pm)

    I commend the courage to speak of one’s disability so publicly. I do not however, agree with the consistant tendency of “pro-DESC” folks to broad-brush people who are against the development as uncaring or exclusionary.

    After witnessing the distain that the DESC has openly shown for the neighbors near their proposed facility, and watching the shell game they play at meetings, I cannot support their plan at all. It is the wrong location- even according to them.

    Just because I am not for the development, DOES NOT mean I hate those with disabilities. Please refrain from painting that picture.

  • Miranda Taylor November 8, 2011 (12:33 pm)

    Galena, precious champion, you are right on. The comments celebrate a beautiful writer in our community, in addition to the one who brings home the organic veggies! Thank you!

    Just a fun Mirandom: I regularly awake to a Harley driver gunning up our Hill at 3AM. There used to be a 4AM Amazon “Fresh” delivery and “400 ponies” being harnessed up, (Ford Mustang), in the garage across the street at 5AM.

    Damn “Fresh” & the Mustangs seem to have moved to the greener pastures of suburbs with others who get up early and have to drive 20 minutes to get anywhere. :)

  • bridge to somewhere November 8, 2011 (12:42 pm)

    Galena: very well said. You are a very thoughtful and gifted writer. And I’m very sorry that you feel vilified in this discussion. That certainly wasn’t my intent for raising opposition to the project. My problem with this project is not at all about housing for people with mental health or chronic homelessness; indeed, in many other posts on WSB I’ve supported both of those causes. We don’t do enough to support people with mental illness. My opposition instead is about choosing this particular location–a location that’s already struggling with a lack of grocery store, public drug use and sales, and high crime–for this project. I don’t think it’s a great location for folks with mental illness, frankly.
    While people who support placing this project here probably think all opposition is your standard “Not in my back yard” argument, at least from me it isn’t. I simply don’t believe this neighborhood has the capacity for more troubled folks, folks who need resources and the ability to walk the sidewalk without seeing drug deals or being scared for their well-being.

  • kgdlg November 8, 2011 (12:46 pm)

    All that I know is that when this facility is built I will volunteer my time there with my young child to teach them what it means to be compassionate towards people that have had a much harder life than us. My brother in law is schizophrenic and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t pass someone on the street talking to themselves and think “what if?” What if he didn’t have family to take care of him? What if he had a co-occurring substance abuse problem? What if he lived under a bridge? To block this facility means that we are all ok with these folks ALREADY being in our community in a much more compromised state (under a bridge not taking meds) rather than well cared for and in recovery.

    Thank you Galina for adding a human story to this process. And for being so very brave.

  • Just a thought November 8, 2011 (1:36 pm)

    While I’m not opposed to the DESC plan, I do take issue with several assumptions in Galena’s statement;

    “I’m hard to deal with sometimes… 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.”

    I strongly disagree with the idea that anyone has to “handle” the mental ill differently, or “establish negotiations.” If a ME person is being annoying, I believe the rest of society is well within their right to just ignor the annoyance. And if a ME person is breaking an established law – then like anyone else they should be punished. If we’re aiming for a diverse, yet equitable society, lets end this entitled victimhood mentality.

    It’s unfortunate for the ME person that they can’t be “normal” and its equally unfortunate for their neighbor that they live next to the person “yelling or acting weird.” In her own words, “suck it up” and don’t expect “them to be kind to (you) when (you’re) having a nasty day.”

    • WSB November 8, 2011 (3:09 pm)

      A comment above uses an inaccurate number for the DESC project cost more than once. It is expected to be more than $14 million, according to documents as well as our correspondence with DESC executive director Bill Hobson (in which he said the $500,000 state grant was “3 to 4% of expected project costs”). – TR

  • DelridgianForReasonableDevelopment November 8, 2011 (1:36 pm)

    Galena- thank you for sharing your story. It definitely helps remind us about the unique complexities of mental health and real people behind the diagnosis.

    That being said, I— like some of the respondents above and many more of those who actually live in the area— still feel that the current proposed location is a poor, poor choice for the neighborhood and the residents. And just because I do not agree with the location does not in any way entail that I don’t have a heart for those suffering with mental issues and I really don’t appreciate the insinuation.
    My family chose to purchase a home in the area precisely because we wanted to live in a racially/ethnically/economically diverse neighborhood. Developing a $4.5 million dollar public facility in the middle of what is generally a lower middle class neighborhood should, at the very least, require some sort of vote from those who live in the vicinity. (I was part of a group that wanted to upgrade the current playground at Cottage Grove Park and you would not believe that amounts of public forums, documentation, and other hoops that were required for such a seemingly simple- yet fruitless- enterprise).

    If the developers said, “Hey, we’re going to team up with a developer to build a grocery store and an Emergency Service Center. What do all you neighbors think about that?” I assure you, the response would have been much more tame. But, instead they basically said, “Hey, we’re going to build a $4.5 million dollar Emergency Service Center in your neighborhood and, even though you live in this neighborhood, pay your property taxes, raise your kids here, etc., and you have no say in the matter. We’re just holding these public forums so that we can meet a mandate.”

    Beyond the fact that we’re being forced to accept the construction of an expensive, community-changing facility without prior approval, I share many concerns others have already expressed about the proposed site and, having lived next to a similar facility for many years, can speak at great lengths about the daily reality that such a facility will likely bring— despite its wonderful intentions.

    Man, I love people, people of all shapes, colors, and creeds, but let’s not kid ourselves for the sake of political-correctness about what happens when you bring a group of individuals with widely varying disabilities and needs and plop them into an environment that has high existing levels of poverty, very limited access to anything else beyond a couple convenient stores, and a community that, as you can already see, is not entirely warm to the idea in the first place.

    I urge those who live in the vicinity and disapprove of the site to continue to show up to the meetings, voice your concerns, and don’t feel that this is a done deal. It’s not. You live in the neighborhood and deserve to have a say in how it is developed just as those who do approve of the facility.

  • Dirk November 8, 2011 (3:11 pm)

    A thought-provoking piece regardless of your opinion on the DESC center. Thanks for sharing.

  • DelridgianForReasonableDevelopment November 8, 2011 (3:16 pm)

    Thanks for the catch WSB. Always on the ball. I misread your post a while back:

    “According to Seattle Office of Housing spokesperson Julie Moore, the city grant to Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC) is for “up to $4.45 million.”

    Thanks for the correction.

  • sks November 8, 2011 (3:32 pm)

    Galena’s piece is thought provoking and dignified. That being said, I was sitting at the table right next to Galena at the DESC meeting. I cannot imagine the women sitting with her were sitting in fear. I’ve been a Delridge resident for four years. Within that time, I have seen Galena around-mostly in relation to the DPC project. It is hard for me to imagine anyone being afraid of Galena. I am not afraid of Galena. I am also not afraid of homeless people. I am afraid of heights and dying. Why do the people who support DESC in Delridge insist on labeling those of us who don’t? Have the pro-DESC people been called names, accused of harboring deep seated feelings, or been vilified because they cannot see our point of view? Not as far as I can tell. WE ARE NOT AFRAID. THIS IS NOT A NIMBY ISSUE. Please, if you cannot understand our point of view then just say so. But quit turning this into a good vs. evil rhetoric. We are all entitled to our opinions and to make our views public without judgment. Galena makes a lot of assumptions about those of us sitting around her, assumptions that are not necessarily true.

  • AnotherDelridgeParent November 8, 2011 (3:57 pm)

    Oh goodness. So now if we oppose the DESC facility on Delridge we’re suddenly horrible, hateful people who can’t stand anyone with mental illness? PLEASE.

    This facility is very, very wrong for our fragile community. There are so many places that would make good locations for a DESC facility. In the middle of a neighborhood knee-deep in crime and poverty is not one of them.

  • Perry November 8, 2011 (4:37 pm)

    How transformative it is to have people who have mental illnesses talk about their experiences! Thanks to Galena and others like her who share their stories so that the rest of us can learn from them.

    Yes, AnotherDelridgeParent, you are prejudiced against people who have mental illnesses, although not a hateful or horrible person. Just uninformed and bigoted. Listen to the voices of the huge number of people on this blog.

    One uninformed response the NIMBY crowd always brings forward is that we are too fragile to handle this. Believe me, you are more than capable of absorbing these folks into your community as contributing citizens, just like all of the other crime-ridden, impoverished neighborhoods in which projects just like this have flourished for decades. West Seattle is full of successful projects like this that are doing fine, without repercussions to the neighbors.

  • BAD LOCATION DESC November 8, 2011 (6:12 pm)

    Not everyone with mental illness can get their life back together like Galena. Remember we were told some of the people that are going into the DESC facility can’t even interact and can drink alcohol which doesn’t seem to go well with a person struggling with mental illness. Also Galena I commend you for getting your life back together, but can we really think that all 75 people in this facility will have the help from DESC to do the same. I do not think so. As said before the location is HORRIBLE. We do care for mentally ill people and want them to have a safe and productive environment to live. Delridge is NOT IT! If DESC really cared it would have a no-alcohol or drug zone and require it’s people to have counseling, community involvement and give them a reason to want to live. DESC is the problem not the Delridge community.

  • John November 8, 2011 (6:48 pm)

    sks asks, ” Have the pro-DESC people been called names, accused of harboring deep seated feelings, or been vilified because they cannot see our point of view?”

    The answer sks is absolutely YES! I have been vilified as has WSB.

    And here are a few examples;

    “Either you have a ton of extra time on your hands with very little to nothing at stake in this conversation, enabling you to safely throw darts at my neighbors from behind your mask or,

    and this is of greater concern to me, YOU HAVE A LARGE VESTED INTEREST in this project that you are not disclosing.

    Your lack of knowledge about our neighborhood, disregard for those living here and your lack of research on the issues surrounding this project do beg the question of your affiliation with DESC.

    It would be most respectable if you were to disclose any affiliation whatsoever that you have with this project before pursuing your “games” with our community. Thanks.
    Comment by Karrie Kohlhaas — November 5”

    And, “John, I’ve been giving your comments a lot of thought. Specifically, your invitation that those who do not support this project (for whatever reason), submit their argument, personally, to yourself. Initially, I wrote it off as hubris. Upon further consideration, I entertained the idea that you may actually hold a position of decision-making capacity in this discussion, and thus your invitation is sincere.” McBride

    “Delridge Res, my turn to get to accuse somebody of defaming. Your comment actually breaks our rules but just for yuks, I’m letting it through so I can respond to it.” Tracy @ WSB

    And, “However, it is a lot easier, simpler and much less disturbing to ones life to attend a DESC fundraiser at the Downtown Sheraton Hotel for $125 a chair, toss in thousand or more and go home to your safe and stable neighborhood and feel good about yourself.”

    I challenge any of the armchair compassionate people who have posted here who think that this is a good location for this type of facility…” Been There

    “You may think you’re attacking someone’s “views” you’re actually casting negative aspersion on critics and making an ad hominem attacks by using nimby as an adjective. Here are some examples that connote a disparaging meaning, I’ve supplanted ‘nimby’ from your original statement with other adjectives to accentuate my point;
    “punk views so readily expressed here.”
    “idiotic views so readily expressed here.”
    “bigoted views so readily expressed here.”
    Sorry if I’ve “neglected to address” your concerns but my mother always told me to avoid entering into discussions with name callers.
    Comment by I guess I\’m heartless”

    “I don’t like the idea of mentally unstable drug addicts living in a house built with taxpayer funds and they are allowed to use drugs! Why can’t they actually rehabilitate these people, and make them take drug tests? If they test positive then they get kicked out! I wouldn’t mind if they were actively trying to help, but allowing them to smoke crack and shoot up on Delridge is ridiculous!
    Comment by Rosanne

    Nuff said sks?

    • WSB November 8, 2011 (7:06 pm)

      One note, we are not “pro-DESC.” We are not “anti-DESC.” WSB does not take editorial positions. – TR

  • no DESC November 8, 2011 (8:22 pm)

    Very interesting story!

    I also agree that not all of us anti-DESC are all uncaring or exclusionary. Both of my brothers have mental disabilities, and I spend a lot of my time volunteering to those similarly affected, and my money is often spent support their community. I stand firmly against this project. Not the place, time or proper use of funding for our community.

    I hope everyone exercises compassion to those less fortunate. I just happen to think the DESC is a poor way of delivering help, and especially not a good fit for the Delridge neighborhood.

  • MP November 8, 2011 (9:33 pm)

    I think everyone agrees that mental illness is a real issue for people and kudos for the ones who seek help and actually stay on their meds. It’s the drug addicts that will also live in this project that is concerning. With no required drug testing or consequences for continued drug use……..then what are you (DESC) actually doing to NOT enable this illegal drug use? And yes, I’m upset that my hard earned tax dollars go to drug addicts getting to have this housing provided without any incentive for them to stop.

  • John November 8, 2011 (11:01 pm)

    MP, I hope you are endorsing drug testing for ALL residents of Delridge including yourself. And how about weekly police roadblocks for alcohol & drug screening on Delridge Way?

    …What’s good for the goose,…

    Also of note, if the Delridge Neighborhood is low income as often cited by DESC opponents, then its residents are not paying any income taxes anyway.

  • John November 8, 2011 (11:04 pm)

    MP, can you tell me where you spend a lot of time volunteering to those similarly affected with mental disabilities?
    I am interested in also volunteering.

  • del neighbor November 8, 2011 (11:49 pm)

    Many of the arguments against DESC on Delridge are actually convincing me that we need to work harder to make this a safer neighborhood that can support, even welcome, a building/community like this. What can we do to make the area better for all of us?

  • delridge neighbor November 9, 2011 (12:08 am)

    Thank you Galena, and thank you WSB for posting this.

  • YetAnotherDelridgeParent November 9, 2011 (5:44 am)

    Thank you, Galena. It is thought provoking to hear your perspective on things, and we need to listen to all voices and experiences surrounding this development. I am struck by the comments on this posting. To paraphrase, how well will the residents fare in a community plagued with poverty and crime? As I see it, DESC is in the business of healing people with mental illness and chronic homelessness. Do we believe that DESC residents could make the transition that Galena has into independent housing in other neighborhoods? If so, where? Many of us from a variety of backgrounds moved here for the same reason that the DESC wants to – affordability. I am raising my family in a diverse neighborhood – and trust me, before I moved here and met any of you I checked the crime rates in this neighborhood and the ones that I was most concerned about (like theft and sexual assault) were on par if not lower than some of Seattle’s upper class neighborhoods. I started to feel settled and safe when I moved to this neighborhood because I built connections with neighbors (and law enforcement, when necessary.) Can we expect to feel “safe” in any neighborhood if we choose to isolate ourselves? I seem to remember that DESC executive director Bill Hobson said that the major issue with DESC residents is that they tend to isolate themselves. I am not concerned with the project moving forward, but rather the support that DESC provides to give these residents the best chance at healing and learning how to move in the community in ways that cause the least amount of stress for other community residents as well as themselves. We are a community. We are already living with some colorful characters from all walks of life, and I hope that it would teach us to mentor the people that come into this community in the future.

  • RL November 9, 2011 (7:28 am)

    FYI – Point of clarification. Nobody pays Washington State income tax, regardless of income level. The funds granted to this project by the city and state came from sales tax, which we all get to pay.

  • JoAnne November 9, 2011 (8:11 am)

    There is a HUGE difference between those who are mentally ill and struggling to take care of themselves and those who are mentally ill and actively abusing alcohol and/or using illegal drugs.

    The DESC project will provide housing for mentally ill who are ACTIVELY DRINKING and USING ILLEGAL DRUGS. Most persons struggling with mental illness would NOT want to live in a place with known drug activity and criminals hanging around!

    This is NOT bigotry or lack of compassion. It is common sense.

    Very sad for Galena that she can’t seem to make this distinction. From what she states in her story, she is clearly not an abuser of alcohol or illegal drugs herself.

    I hope she and others will understand that people are not bigoted against the mentally ill just because they do not want illegal drug activity in their neighborhood.

  • MP November 9, 2011 (10:07 am)

    Yes, I’d gladly take a drug test anytime. My point is..if you look on DESC website they talk about rehabilitation…. Well how do they go about doing that if the residents can continue with their drug use?
    I have another story for you folks that doesn’t have the same outcome as above.
    I work downtown. I have Plymouth Housing around me down there. Much like DESC they house mentally I’ll and drug addicts. Many of the residents walk up and down the streets in front of my work. We have had to call the police several times when it was clear that residents have gone off their medications and were a threat. One in particular was waving a butcher knife outside on the sidewalk. Many people called 911 who witnessed this. Thank god no one was hurt. Now put that situation on Delridge where you are close to schools and daycare…. At least downtown where I am there isn’t a school or little kids close by….. This should be a consideration.

  • Kayleigh November 9, 2011 (11:28 am)

    ROFL, JoAnne. You live in Delridge. You have illegal drug activity in your neighborhood ALREADY. It’s been a sketchy area since I was a kid. It hasn’t gentrified much. And I live by the Junction, where I’m 100% positive there are functional alcoholics and drug addicts living within a block of me, too. I’d rather addicts have a stable home and easy, quick access to treatment when they relapse. It also increases their chances of staying sober and keeps the burden off of the emergency room and ambulance systems.

  • John November 9, 2011 (11:43 am)

    JoAnne, you obviously have had little or no experience with the mentally ill. If you just take a little time to research these types of disabilities, you will conclude that your common sense is wrong and consistent with “bigotry or lack of compassion.”

    MP, although you claim to be drug and alcohol free, many Delridge and Seattle neighbors are not. We live in a society that still embraces individual freedoms, including freedom from unreasonable searches. Your suggestion would surely be rejected by our society.

    Your anecdotal “story” of the knife wielder is vague as to location and impossible to confirm. Until you provide specifics including locations and police incident reports, your charges should be considered outrageous “scare tactics.”
    Further, your claim that, “At least downtown where I am there isn’t a school or little kids close by…,” is factually incorrect. There are many day-care facilities, schools and children living downtown as well as thousands of children busing to school using downtown bus stops.
    Since you are not specific with the location and there are 10 Plymouth Housing sites downtown, I can not cite just how close they are to schools and day-care facilities.
    And by your faulty reasoning, rehabilitation is impossible, as people can always access drugs and alcohol, even in our most secure prisons, hospitals or remote military outposts where all such products are banned.

  • My Eye November 9, 2011 (12:14 pm)


    Drug and alcohol use aside, the proposed location is still a bad one.
    How do you justify, John, that this location with no easy access to food or services is going to be able to assist in the care and rehabilitation of its residents?
    People do understand the need for care of those less fortunate. In fact Delridge is already home to Navos. As stated before by there own guidlines DESC should not be building in the proposed area.

  • I guess I'm heartless November 9, 2011 (12:27 pm)

    MP I’m also having a hard with the knife wielder story, as such, could you provide John with the details such as what color shoes the perpetrator was wearing, was it sunny or overcast? Don’t you know the mentally I’ll never act up?


  • Aaron November 9, 2011 (1:28 pm)

    The applications I saw estimated costs around $14,500,000. Most of that taxpayer money either in a check or tax breaks for an investor (also taxpayers money!).

    That is around to $193,333 per apartment. More expensive per square foot than any other building on Delridge.

    I propose that I will quit my job and instead volunteer 60 hrs/week if I could get that same sort of money from the taxpayers. Pretty good gig.

    How about it DESC? Wanna pay off my upsidedown and backwards mortgage and put me to work?

    I’m pretty sure that $14.5 million could buy at least 10 square blocks of Delridge. Plenty of housing already built. Roomier too!

    This really shouldn’t be an argument about whether or not housing the homeless is good or not.

    This should be an argument about developers taking over your (and my) neighborhood using YOUR MONEY!

    “Good neighbor”? Not from where I’m sitting.

  • John November 9, 2011 (2:01 pm)

    My Eye, let me once again address this question, which you have now raised, again…

    1) Access to food will be provided by DESC delivering direct transportation to grocery stores. DESC, by providing safe secure transportation obviates the issue of Delridge possibly being a food desert. DESC residents will actually have better more efficient access to healthy food than the rest of Delridge. They will not need to be out on the streets waiting for buses and transfers to reach the market as current homeless, drug addicts, alcoholics and mentally ill in Delridge are.

    2) The “services” you bring up will be provided in-house or transportation provided by DESC. Once again, better than the current situation.

    My Eye, the above answers 1) & 2) address the aspects of the DESC “guidelines” that this location lacks.

    I also point out that treating all of the “guidelines” as “requirements” would prevent the TEN Plymouth Housing facilities from being located downtown.

    “In fact Delridge is already home to Navos.”
    – Right you are, and please list the ways Navos has destroyed the “fragile” Delridge neighborhood. How many tragedies, knife “wavings” and hatchet amurders have they been responsible for?

    If anything, with the preponderance of cited violence and homeless shelters located downtown, all TEN of the Plymouth Housing facilities should move their residents to the much safer West Seattle.

    My Eye, I ask you and the long string of others saying, “anywhere but here” (code for NIMBY), where they could go that other NIMBY opposition would not rear its ugly head? The suggested commercial bakery site in SODO does not meet “guidelines” and is a hazardous waste industrial site. No agency can afford the hazmat clean-up & costly restoration or the purchase of the also suggested 18th Hole at Broadmoor Golf Club.
    heartless, you have omitted the fact that this is exactly the type of incident facilities such as DESC help prevent.

    The article you link, though apparently did not read, laments the reduction and elimination of funds by our government for care facilities.
    And yes, although the article mentions Sound Mental Health, this extremely sick person had a history of not taking his medications and avoiding treatment. These are the exact services that agencies such as DESC provide. Perhaps if he were in a facility and being treated, this tragedy might not have occurred.

    Regarding that incident, the Seattle Times interviewed his brother about the tragedy, “When Umland last talked to his half-brother, about two months ago, LaRosa said that he had recently moved out of a homeless shelter and was living in an apartment.
    Authorities say that LaRosa was most recently living on the streets.”

    • WSB November 9, 2011 (2:17 pm)

      Regarding Navos – It should be noted that the Delridge-area facility is NOT a housing project. It is a hospital. Info here – describing it as, in part, a 72-bed inpatient facility, most of whose patients were involuntarily committed.
      It is on SW Holden and also has outpatient services, according to their website, but not permanent housing, though another page on Navos’s site says they do have 280 units of housing around the city.

  • John November 9, 2011 (6:17 pm)

    Aaron, yours rates amongst the top of the many idiotic, inaccurate comments this DESC discussion has generated!

    Where do I start? Your first stumble is claiming that DESC is a for-profit agency, “tax breaks for an investor (also taxpayers money!).” WRONG. DESC is not something people invest in with financial returns.

    Next you divide the $14,500,000 by the 75 proposed units to come up with, “around to $193,333 per apartment.” Good work.
    But then you step into it again with, “More expensive per square foot than any other building on Delridge.” How did you get from cost per apartment to cost per square foot? You didn’t.
    Although I don’t know the size of each studio unit with full kitchens and baths, if their size is 800 square feet, then the cost per square foot would be about $240, which is definitely not “more expensive per square foot than any other building on Delridge.”

    The $14.5 million cost is not just for the studio units. It also includes, “common space for residents on first floor (meeting rooms, dining area, staff offices); outside garden
    and courtyard” and a “new storefront/commercial space.” These additions considerably lower the cost per square foot of the studios.

    Aaron, next, “I (Aaron) propose that I will quit my job and instead volunteer 60 hrs/week if I could get that same sort of money from the taxpayers. Pretty good gig.” This makes no sense, whatsoever!
    First, Aaron I regret to inform you volunteers do not get paid!!!
    Look up the word.
    If there was some deal that allowed you to “volunteer” 60 hours per week in exchange for a studio unit, it would not be yours and you would be paying an exorbitant rent.
    These are rental units, “residents will all sign and abide by leases; will pay rent.”
    At Washington State minimum wage of $8.67 per hour you would be paying more than $2080 per month for rent! Pretty good gig, eh Aaron?

    If Aaron really does have, “upsidedown and backwards mortgage,” who is to blame and what does that have to do with this?

    Next Aaron writes, “I’m pretty sure that $14.5 million could buy at least 10 square blocks of Delridge. Plenty of housing already built. Roomier too!”
    This statement leads me to believe that Aaron does not own a house, has no idea of housing values in Delridge and did not do the math, calculator or not.
    Here it is: each block contains 30 SFR parcels times 10 blocks for a total of 300 parcels. Each parcel with house is worth more than an average of $200,000 so, Aaron’s 10 blocks would cost more like $60 million.

    Finally Aaron writes, “This should be an argument about developers taking over your (and my) neighborhood using YOUR MONEY!”

    WRONG AGAIN Aaron. These are not developers, this is a non profit social services agency providing housing for the homeless with disabilities.

    And they are purchasing, at market value mind you, these parcels from other property owners, just like you claim to be.

    Aaron, are you a, “Good neighbor”?
    Not from where I’m sitting.”

  • Yep, I live in Delridge November 9, 2011 (7:26 pm)

    Bottom line is that I pay taxes. Sales tax, property tax, vehicle tax, and every other tax this city, county, and state impose upon me. Why can’t I get a say in how those tax dollars are spent? If my tax dollars are going to fund this project, where’s my say if I agree or not.

    I don’t want my tax dollars being spent on housing people who have no desire or incentive to stop using and abusing drugs/alcohol, or get mental help. I don’t have any desire for my money to spent on enabling addictive behavior. I work hard for my money, and have no issue paying taxes. But you better believe that if I don’t agree with how those dollars are being spent, then I’m going to speak up.

    I don’t agree that tax dollars should be used to house addicts and mentally ill with no requirement for help or substance abuse counseling. That just says to me that in our society, we don’t care if you are a burden to society, we’ll pay for you anyway.

  • MyEye November 10, 2011 (9:00 am)

    John, where would be a better place to build? Well one that doesn’t place additional burden of poverty on an already struggling area. One that doesn’t require a band-aid, bootstrap solution like the one you are proposing.

    I bring up NAVOS because this isn’t a NIMBY issue. As you point out residence of Delridge have been good neighbors to similar, though better thought through, organizations in the past. It really seems like this “neighborhood supported” project has little neighborhood support.

  • John November 10, 2011 (11:35 am)

    MyEye, EXACTLY.

    You have come up with the standard often repeated NIMBY answer of, “ANYWHERE BUT HERE.”

    Why should downtown have 10 Plymouth Housing sites where so many of the actively homeless, mentally ill, drug abusers, criminals, drug dealers, petty criminals are?

    Specifically, where would you suggest DESC go and why would you think similar “concerns” would not be raised by those neighbors?

    My Eye, do you realize that by bringing up NAVOS and confirming that they have “been good neighbors,” you are making an argument in support of the DESC project?

  • WadingIn November 10, 2011 (2:24 pm)


    I appreciate the courage you display in stepping forth on this issue, and I’ve been thinking about your post quite a bit. Did a little research, too.

    First, background: I share some of your history. I have been fortunate to have strong support systems, access to care, and a blend of issues that generally allow me to get by even when unmanaged. I have not been homeless (or at least, couchless) but I have deep and personal feelings about the stigmatization of mental illness.

    What I heard you say is that when people want to hide their children from the crazies, you feel pain because you identify with that population. I can totally understand how that environment would feel unwelcoming and judgmental.

    My first thought reading your post was, “Hm, I didn’t feel that way at all. Why is that? A matter of degree? Past experiences?”

    I decided it was this: I believe most people are talking about schizophrenics. Depressed folks are familiar. Even anxiety disorder is something that people can identify with on some level. But IME, schizophrenia is what people generally mean when they talk about mental illness in the context of fear and danger. And everyone knows that most mentally-ill homeless are schizophrenic, right?

    Turns out, wrong.

    From American Journal of Public Health:

    Over the past 2 decades, the prevalence of schizophrenia changed very little among both men and women. Bipolar disorder, major depression, and panic disorder generally increased over the 2 decades, but antisocial personality disorder did not change appreciably. Overall, nonsubstance Axis I disorders (DSM-IV) increased among both men and women over the past 2 decades, and major depression accounted for the majority of these disorders at all 3 assessment points.”>

    Major depression in the majority. A surprise to me, maybe to some other neighbors in this conversation.

    The research also indicates that approx. 1/3 of the homeless population does suffer from schizophrenia and manic-depressive illness, so it’s not a completely unfounded assumption. But even so, it also sounds like Bill’s assertion that most of them keep to themselves is true; an emergency-room study found the following, comparing homeless population to controls:

    social isolation (no weekly social contacts) 81% vs 11%

    (this and other interesting statistics here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1553-2712.2001.tb01114.x/abstract, including depression, schizophrenia, and disease)

    And there are some issues there. Generally schizophrenics are more likely to be violent to themselves, but do have a higher rate of violence to others than the general population. Relevant factors in the rate of violence (some of which I note apply to all persons, not just the mentally ill):

    There appear to be three primary predictors of violence and three other less well-defined predictors.

    The most important one is a history of past violence; this is the most significant predictor of violence no matter whether a person is mentally ill or not. In trying to predict future violent behavior, the person’s history is the single most critical piece of information.

The second important predictor is drug and alcohol abuse, and this is also valid whether the person is mentally ill or not. In 1994, Jeanette Smith and Stephen Hucker reviewed studies of substance abuse in persons with schizophrenia and noted “a growing body of research suggesting a significant link between schizophrenia, substance abuse, and violence”

The third important predictor is the failure to take medication… Those who do not take prescribed medication appear to be much more likely to commit violent acts.

    (http://www.schizophrenia.com/szfacts.htm, quoting from Dr. E. Fuller Torrey’s book “Out of the Shadows – Confronting America’s Mental Illness Crisis” – page 49)

    I think that explains some of the issues folks have with the DESC project: residents are not screened out for having prior violent behavior, they will have substance abuse issues, and there is no expectation of treatment.

    These are not my reasons for opposing the project, although I would certainly like it better if it were more of a supportive, treatment environment and not just housing.

    Which brings me to my final, personal point. I was sitting at your table. When you said you had already been negotiating with DESC for the retail space, I admit that I chose not to engage you on the subject.

    Maybe I should have, so that you would not have been so dismissive of my position in this forum. Maybe you would have known that I stood up at the very first meeting and stated that I supported the “housing first” approach. I also stated that I would oppose a development of that size no matter who the residents were. Maybe you’d have seen that I wrote on the table in front of you that my ideal would be the same thing, but with about half the numbers (more, smaller facilities). And maybe we could have learned that we had more in common than this decisive issue would imply.

    There are hysterical people on both sides of this issue, and I certainly wouldn’t want to feel like I was the subject of any of those attacks. I am genuinely sorry you felt a crowd of 150 was having a witch hunt at your expense, that sounds awful.

    TL;DR: Thank you Galena. I hear your experience. I suspect some are thinking of schizophrenics. Research indicates most homeless suffer instead from major depression. There are still issues though, both as concerns DESC’s approach to the residents and completely separate from the residents themselves. I remain opposed, and it’s not because I fear the mentally ill.

  • WadingIn November 10, 2011 (2:42 pm)

    Wow, I totally hosed the formatting on that, and have tried too many times to fix it. Moderator, can you help?!?

    Sorry to any readers. If you follow the links you can probably get the gist.

  • Amanda T. November 12, 2011 (6:32 am)

    I volunteer at DESC, and I know the clients. In my experience, they’re not a threat. The worst behavior I’ve seen is that some of the clients are uneasy or impatient or grouchy. But that’s a minority. Also the worst physical problems I’ve seen are poor dress and poor grooming. I give them haircuts, so I’m working on that.

    I appreciate Galena’s perspective. The DESC clients have severe mental illnesses, and they’re not able to live independently, as Galena is. They are, however, supervised, subject to house rules (and panhandling is not permitted), and their medications are administered for them, in addition to other treatments. DESC also has a clinical arm, and each client has a case worker.

    My husband works at DESC as a manager, and over the years he’s repeatedly told me what a good organization it is, what good people work there. Other DESC facilities in residential neighborhoods are not a blight, but an asset.

    I believe the worst that Delridge will face is loitering, smoking, poor grooming, and poor dress. These mild problems should be acceptable.

  • John November 12, 2011 (10:12 am)

    WadingIn, I just returned to this string to find your piece as most commentors have moved to the most recent one.

    I have read and re-read your comments and still do not understand your points.

    Your link to Onlinelibrary leads to the statistically confusing paragraph with,
    -“Conclusions: In the study population homelessness was associated with a history of significantly higher rates of infectious disease, ethanol and substance use, psychiatric illness, social isolation, and rates of ED (Emergency Department) utilization.”

    What is unusual or significant about this?

    Your focus on schizophrenics and depression is confusing in regard to your minimizing bi-polar disorder.

    The other web site your refer to says, “It has been estimated that a cure for schizophrenia could be found within 10 years (by the year 2013).”

    You also write, “These are not my reasons for opposing the project, although I would certainly like it better if it were more of a supportive, treatment environment and not just housing.” I am surprise that you write that as that is exactly what DESC is. You are mistaken in claiming DESC is “just housing.”

    From DESC,
    “♦ Uses evidence-based Housing First model; 24/7 on-site staffing; licensed mental healthcare, chemical dependency services, meals, outings, etc.”
    “♦ Licensed mental health and chemical dependency provider.”

    You write, “I also stated that I would oppose a development of that size no matter who the residents were.” Your stated opposition to the 75 unit DESC is contrasted by, “my ideal would be the same thing, but with about half the numbers (more, smaller facilities).”

    You give no reasons why the size should be reduced in half, but such a project would greatly increase costs, environmental footprint and inefficiencies.
    Your plan would effectively double 24/7 staffing requirements, a huge cost increase and might doom any success due such high costs. Why do feel the size should be reduced?

    Further, it is difficult if not impossible for the ‘man on the street’ to assess whether a strange acting person is suffering from, alcohol, prescription drugs, illicit drugs, the manic component of bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, or depression, or any combination of these.

    I thank you as I do Galena and the others who have
    shared their struggles with mental illness. The more light shone on this disability, the more knowledge people gain. And the more knowledge people gain, the more compassionate they become.

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