Isn’t there a zone for people like you?
Some residents of Bethel Park, a Pittsburgh suburb are fearful of their new neighbors. It’s not because they are violent or sexual predators or members of some sort of hate group. It is because their three new neighbors have one thing in common aside from the house itself. They have been diagnosed as mentally ill. They are living together by choice with a support staff member in a small group home.
O’Connell, 62, said she worries about taking her dogs outside. Next door, Jeff DeBald won’t let his children go to their backyard pool alone. Around the corner, the Seagren family spent $1,000 to install a security system and is demanding information from municipal officials.
Really? This all seems more than a little extreme and presumptive considering these new residents have done nothing to instill fear in the hearts of the townspeople other than have the nerve to seek treatment for their problems.
“It’s frightening. Just seeing it is frightening,” said David Seagren, 65… “This is not a neighborhood for facilities. It’s a neighborhood for residential living. As far as we’re concerned, this is not the neighborhood where they should be.” (emphasis mine)
Exactly, it’s a neighborhood for residential living which is what these three are there for. “They” are simply trying to live in their own community, which may just be your community too and not some little enclave closed off to themselves. I suppose the real question is, if not Bethel Park, what would constitute a neighborhood “where they should be”? Perhaps sandwiched between a liquor store and a strip-joint at the edge of the city. Maybe some sort of complex where they can be warehoused and properly monitored.
Another neighbor, Leigh Meis has only become more relaxed after the new residents have proven themselves with nine months of uneventful living but had this to add:
“This kind of felt like they were sneaking in,” she said, echoing a common complaint. “And not knowing kind of makes you raise your eyebrow: ‘If it’s no big deal, why didn’t you let us know?'”
What obligation does a free citizen and prospective neighbor have to announce themselves like a pedophile before taking up residence anywhere regarded as decent — and really, if it’s no big deal, why would you let someone know your personal business? “Hello, my name is ____ . I baked you this lovely pie and I get depressed (or have ‘bipolar disorder’ or hear voices).” Yeah, that seems reasonable.
There are reasons the medical establishment offers the protection of confidentiality. One of those reasons is to shield recipients of care from this type of stigma. Emotional problems are hard enough and (for those who want to put them under the scope of medicine) so are medical problems. No one should have their own issues compounded with the burden of disclosing them to a mob of scrutinizing strangers with a need to approve of them .
Fortunately there is a voice of reason among the whispers and protests. It’s a luxury unavailable to far too many.
“We want to be advocates for the people we serve but also advocate for enjoying the community and being a part of it,” said Jane Miller, director of community and government relations at Mercy. “This isn’t a business. This is a home. There are three people living there, and it’s their home.”
What level of mental health entitles someone to live on tree lined streets versus litter strewn ghettos? Who gets the white picket fence and who gets the razor wire and who gets to make that call? It is a frightening and oppressive world in which we make these distinctions and even more so when we quietly allow others to make them for us.