Today, I read the story of yet another behavioral health organization that had to sue a local government and endure a lengthy trial to win the right to develop its own property for the purpose of providing behavioral health treatment services. With the solid backing of two federal laws - The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 - the organization won its case hands down, as such organizations nearly always do, whether they provide mental health treatment, addiction treatment, group homes, recovery residences, housing for homeless or mentally ill people, or any of a multitude of other behavioral health services.
I must say that I've been "sensitized" to the issue of local opposition to behavioral health projects because it is so common. I learned just how common when I attended the 28th annual Rosalynn Carter Symposium on Mental Health Policy in November -an international forum that has focused on reducing stigma and discrimination against the mentally ill for nearly three decades. While at this forum, I came to realize that despite the fact that opposition happens in hundreds of different localities each year, the arguments used by project opponents are nearly always the same. And, as noted above, so are the legal outcomes.
News of another court victory for the zoning, siting, or expansion of a project related to behavioral health, or of a local administrative or zoning decision in support of a project, is no longer news to me. But I'm astonished that in each case, the decisions that are made seem to be such major and unexpected news to project opponents, who nevertheless continue to mobilize, angrier than ever, against the perceived threat that such a facility presents.
I suppose that in each case, angry citizens or worried politicians believe that their concerns or complaints about the siting of a behavioral health facility or housing complex in their community are truly unique and worthy of a public forum even when laws say that hearings are not required. I supposed that they are motivated by the certainty that those who propose and develop such projects chose the site with ulterior motives (other than the availabilty of unoccupied/developable/renovatable property, for example). Or, that "the undesirables" seeking treatment, shelter, or a home offered by the project are - this time for sure - bound to be the community's worst nightmare, a threat to decent people, a bane to property values, and a source of crime and violence.
In every case, the opponents cry, "Don't our views deserve a hearing? Don't we deserve a forum for our opposition? How dare you rule on such a matter when we are so concerned?"
The commissions, zoning officials, judges, and jury members nationwide who hear these voices, consult the law, and then find in support of behavioral health programs or projects recognize that such views rarely require any additional hearing. Why? Because they offer nothing new. In general, they represent expressions of common personal or community prejudices fueled by the fear of others believed to be different from and inferior to ourselves.