To the editor:

I want to go on record supporting the building of a mental health facility for those over 50 at the former Medical Arts Building in Leavenworth. I applaud the decision by the Leavenworth City Commission to advance the rezoning ordinance which would help to make the facility a reality. 

The location of the facility is an inspired choice. A medical office building and a very good hospital are within walking distance from the site of the proposed facility. Such a facility would be a very welcome addition to an already impressive community effort to provide medical treatment and quality,  affordable housing for our elderly family members and neighbors.

Try as I may, I have not been able to muster sufficient sympathy for the arguments that have been made against such a facility. “Those people with mental illness.” Do people not realize that almost everyone has a friend or family member that has a mental illness? Is that the way we talk about people with cancer, diabetes, lupus or any other life-threatening illness? Sometimes I wonder how can it be that there are still people out there who obviously believe that mental illness boils down to “a few crazies who are going to be wandering our streets and spreading havoc in their paths?” I do not apologize for being blunt. Would someone please explain to me how in June 2017 we are still hearing such stereotyping and negativism about people who battle mental illness today and every day for the rest of their life?

I would like to know the reasons why two planning commissioners voted “no” against advancing the rezoning ordinance? Was it because of an imagined drop in property values or a feared rise in the crime rate? Crime statistics conclusively show that assault victims, especially children, usually know their assailants and, that in most cases, they are living with them. The real criminals we should be worrying about are wandering free throughout our community. It is from them we need protection, not the mentally ill. 

Furthermore, many communities across America have abdicated their responsibility for mental health treatment by inadvertently handing it off to someone else – the police. These brave and amazingly creative public “therapists” strive valiantly to fill the gap, even though they are sometimes overwhelmed by the enormity of the job we have shoved their way. Through no fault of their own, they are often woefully unprepared and ill-equipped for the immense difficulties that accompany full-blown mental illness. If we are serious about expecting the police to be the final stop for mental health-related problems, maybe we should be using tax dollars to finance their  M.D. in psychiatry and then we should pay them a wage more in line with what a doctor receives.

Next month our commissioners will vote on this matter. I trust they will do the enlightened, humane, right thing. Then they can get busy and seek out another company who will build a similar facility, one for those under 50.