2009-10-30 / Letters

Mentally Ill Need Support, Not Judgement

Dear Editor,

The recent coverage concerning the possible closing of local adult homes, and the response by a number of my Rockaway neighbors in an atmosphere of rumor, ignorance, and fear; is what prompts me to write this letter.

A really classic summary of many residents' attitudes toward people with psychiatric disabilities has been provided by Maureen Ritter in her letter to the editor in the October 9 issue of the Wave.

I have to wonder just when a section of the boardwalk became the personal property of Ritter and her neighbors. She describes it as "our section of the boardwalk." Ritter also seems to think she belongs to a class of privileged 'non-crazies' and that 'these people,' due to their extremely low status (in her estimation), need to be sent somewhere far from her home and boardwalk.

Perhaps Maureen Ritter has an ironclad certificate of guarantee from God or her physician, that neither she nor any of her loved ones will ever become mentally ill. If they did, she or her loved one might become one of 'those people.' Unfortunately, there is no such guarantee for anyone. Be careful how you treat the people you step over on your way up the road of life, because you just might have to pass the same folks on your way down the road some day.

Obviously, adult homes as they currently exist in Rockaway are a very poor answer to the need for housing and treatment of people with chronic mental illness. These places do not adequately serve either their residents or the surrounding community. However, demonizing those who battle a lifelong illness can only make things worse for everyone. It is the height of ignorance, unkindness, and a big waste of time.

Allow me to share a couple of things I have learned living here in Rock - away Park for about six years. Back before our Albany legislators lost their brains, and before "Emperor of the Wealthy," Mayor Bloomberg, rose to power in New York City, things were moving along, not perfectly, but in the right direction regarding housing for persons with mental health issues. Independent living and housing programs, with lots of training and support for potential residents, were beginning to be really effective. Patients in hospital outpatient programs, adult homes, or living alone in sub-standard housing, had options. These options involved being placed in scattered-site apartments (never all in one neighborhood) with daily, weekly, or monthly professional support and supervision, according to the individual's need. For the most stable and successful, the ultimate achievement was to be placed in one's very own apartment. No more roommates to deal with, but still with appropriate supports in place. Supportive services included help with budgeting, healthy eating, compliance with treatment and medication, and emphasis on good citizenship such as volunteering and voter registration.

Unfortunately, due to the factors that I've already mentioned, as well as the extreme rationing of health care that has begun in this state, such programs, which have been quite successful and have saved taxpayer dollars, are now hard to find and have waiting lists that are hopelessly long.

When appropriate housing for persons with psychiatric illness, housing that supports health, independence, and compliance with treatment, be - comes unavailable, patients are dump ed into adult homes. Many who simply won't remain in the adult homes are sucked in by unscrupulous SRO landlords. Living in a situation with no supportive services, and at the mercy of drug dealers, drug ad - dicts, drunks, etc. no wonder so many vulnerable disabled persons start to deteriorate.

Even so, I can assure you that the problems of panhandling, disruptive behavior, and crime here in Rockaway Park are not the fault of psychiatric patients primarily. Far more trouble comes from the many drug dealers, drug addicts, drunks, and career criminals that hang out on Beach 116 Street and elsewhere. These problem loiterers have never really been dealt with effectively by local police or the justice system. All of us are not so easily fooled by local precinct promotions or heavily manipulated crime statistics.

Election day is coming and it is obvious that those now in office have failed the entire community, including the psychiatrically disabled. If any adult homes are ever actually closed, the type of independent living and support/supervision programs I have described, and are supposed to be already in place, must be implemented and expanded for everyone's sake.

WILLIAM FOREST

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