Fear factor

Pam Frampton
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Groundless excuses hide discriminatory attitudes in Paradise neighbourhood

“For too long we have swept the problems of mental illness under the carpet … and hoped that they would go away.”

— New Jersey Senator

Richard J. Codey

“Any economic benefit is outweighed by the damage to property values, the increased crime and other problems we’d have in this town. There’s just no logical argument I can make for bringing this thing to town and putting it right here.”

Those words were spoken by a resident of Grand Falls-Windsor, objecting last year to a planned treatment centre for youth with addictions, but they could have been spoken by any number of people.

Whether it’s proposed social housing, a prison or an addictions treatment centre, residents’ concerns are often the same: lower property values, increased crime, unsavoury elements introduced to the neighbourhood. It’s a phenomenon called not in my backyard (NIMBY) syndrome.

And it’s hardly unique to Grand Falls-Windsor, this province or this country.

I live in a neighbourhood where there is a facility for people living with HIV/AIDS which also offers supportive housing for ex-cons, as well as an addictions centre and at least one group home. There’s also a lovely, 100-year-old golf course and swanky homes and fancy cars we could never afford. Good neighbourhoods reflect a cross-section of society, and ours does.

Having those facilities close by doesn’t bother me in the slightest. The truth is, every neighbourhood has people who are troubled. Prisons, mental hospitals, treatment centres are all places where people with problems are, hopefully, getting attention, corrective action, or treatment that can help.

The furor that erupted this week at a public meeting about a new mental health centre for youth in Paradise reflects the stigma still stubbornly attached to mental illness — despite advocates’ best intentions to dislodge it.

For some reason, talk of mental illness makes some people fearful, and no one wants the thing that frightens them moving in next door.

As David Whalen notes in “The Stigma Associated with Mental Illness,” a paper written for the Canadian Mental Health Association: “Stigma reduction is one of the great challenges facing mental health organizations. Intentional or not, naïve assumptions, stereotyping and downright prejudice can have damaging effects on the course of recovery from a mental illness. … Individuals with mental illness are stereotyped as dangerous, unpredictable and weak-willed.”

And as A.B. Borinstein noted way back in 1992, writing for the American journal Health Affairs, “Unless these attitudes soften and the corresponding desire to keep housing for persons with mental illness out of various communities abates, the prospect of allowing persons with mental illness the opportunity to become an accepted part of a neighborhood or community remains tenuous at best.”

Now, I don’t doubt that the people in Paradise who oppose the youth treatment centre are sincere in their concerns about why it would be detrimental to their neighbourhood. But let’s examine those arguments in light of fact, not emotion.

Plenty of notice

First off, many people said news of the meeting caught them off guard.

But according to the Department of Health, once the date of the meeting was finalized, local MHAs and the town council were notified, as were several residents who had expressed interest in the topic; the town was sent a public notice which it posted on its website; the media were notified; ads were placed in The Shoreline and The Telegram; and a public advisory was issued and posted to the provincial government’s website. How much more notification do you need, particularly if it’s a matter of concern to you?

People also said they were worried about increased crime. But the patients at the centre won’t be criminals. It’s a health centre, not a correctional facility.

Besides, research has shown that people with mental health problems are more likely to become the victims of crime, not perpetrators, due to their increased vulnerability. As well, the centre will have staff on site 24 hours a day, with strict supervision where warranted.

There are real ne’er-do-wells in every community under far fewer constraints.

A study of supportive housing in Vancouver, which tracked a period of 25 years, found no evidence of an increase in crime in those neighbourhoods.

A 2009 report, “Housing in My Backyard: A Municipal Guide for Responding to NIMBY,” notes the fear that property values will dwindle is the most widely expressed concern about developments such as this one.

But multiple studies conducted in Canada and the United States, involving a variety of neighbourhoods and development proposals, found there was no adverse affect on property values.

In our own neighbourhood, property values have virtually tripled in the last decade, despite the presence of treatment facilities.

As the “Housing in My Backyard” report notes, “Objections … rooted in discrimination violate human rights legislation.”

According to Canada’s Human Rights Act, “It is a discriminatory practice in the provision of goods, services, facilities or accommodation customarily available to the general public to deny, or to deny access to, any such good, service, facility or accommodation to any individual, or to differentiate adversely in relation to any individual, on a prohibited ground of discrimination.”

I can understand legitimate opposition to developments in neighbourhoods where residents can argue their quality of life would be compromised.

But opposing a treatment centre for young people with serious mental health issues has no basis in logic. This is a facility that parents in this province pleaded for.

We’re talking about young people getting help who need help in order to regain their health, in a secure facility under expert supervision.

And there but for the grace of God goes your child, or mine.

Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s

story editor. She can be reached by email at pframpton@thetelegram.com.

Twitter: pam_frampton.

Organizations: Canadian Mental Health Association, Department of Health

Geographic location: Paradise, Canada, The Shoreline Vancouver United States

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Recent comments

    October 29, 2011 - 20:47

    Well said Pam, and there is more concerning this as well. The current old school is currently being used as a hang out for partying youth complete with booze, drugs, and sexual activity, just ask the town's enforcement officers. There is a far greater risk to the residents for violence, vandalism and other criminal activity than there could ever be from the proposed use, yet they do not complain about that. There is a far greater risk for property devaluation from a dangerous unused building than from a used one, right down to the fire hazard. The comments made against this are ignorant, prejudiced and hateful, nothing more. I bet if people came forward, there would be more folks around them with some form of mental disability than would be housed in the facitity, probably including on town staff. Yet they do not promote violence or anything like these youth are being accused of bringing to the neighborhood. Many people suffer some form of mental illness in their life, from depression on, but there is no danger from it to anyone. Maybe one or two live close by, maybe they BBQ with those nay sayers without it even being evident. It's time people woke up to the nature of humanity and stopped the NIMBY attitude, and give a little kindness. I also wonder how many go to church and claim to be Christian.