Rabble rabble rabble!
  • Rabble rabble rabble!
A small, vocal group of Jackson Place neighbors are fighting county plans for a mental health diversion facility on 1600 South Lane Street. Last night they hijacked a public meeting by hurling accusations of misconduct and backroom deals at city officials before ultimately storming out of the crowded meeting as the discussion turned to drafting a Good Neighbor Agreement between the neighborhood and operators of the facility.

Jesus Christ on a crazy wafer.

Here's what I'm not going to do in this post: Regurgitate hours worth of bullshit NIMBY arguments that attempt to inflame Jackson Place residents, spread misinformation about mentally ill people, and block the county's attempt to locate an innovative mental health facility run by the Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC) in their neighborhood on the grounds that it will be full of "inmates" who will be free to "roam our parks" and "drive up crime, vandalism, and prostitution in our neighborhood." That is all unproven, hysterical, hackneyed nonsense (and I'm being kind when I say nonsense). If you wish to read more on their arguments, go here.

I want to highlight what actually matters: how important this facility is for law enforcement, first responders, and people suffering from mental health and substance abuse issues. Last year, there were 2,930 psychiatric admissions to King County jails. This means countless law enforcement officers were taken off the streets to book nearly 3,000 people who really needed mental health treatment, not jail time. For this reason, countless less-screamy residents of Jackson Place see the center as a resource, not a neighborhood detractor.

The so-called DESC Crisis Solutions Center would be a 30-bed diversion program where police and medical responders could take non-violent people who appeared to be suffering from mental illness, emotional, or substance abuse problems (for example, people with suicidal thoughts).

"The assumption is these people are dangerous—they're not," explained Graydon Andrus, the director of DESC's Clinical Programs, at the meeting. "We would have specific screening that goes on before a person could be considered for the program." He noted that 1,340 people already live in the 98144 zip code with mental illness. "They're in our community right now. We need to provide services for these people."

And while opponents last night were the loudest to express their views, they certainly weren't the only people in the room. Many reasonable people in the neighborhood agree with Andrus.

Council member Tim Burgess: I personally support this facility.
  • Council member Tim Burgess: "I personally support this facility."
"Blocking social services like this from moving into the neighborhood is contrary to what I hear people saying they want in the community," says Cary Davis, a board member of the Jackson Place Community Council, and supporter of the center. "Some people in the neighborhood have reservations but they're willing to trust that DESC is going to do everything they can to make the facility as safe and secure as possible. They want to be part of that conversation—not stop that conversation from happening."

"I'm concerned," admits Jackson Place resident Bill Bradburd, who lives roughly 100 feet east of the proposed site with his wife and two small children, "but ultimately I think it's a good idea. I'm willing to sit down and talk through a good neighbor process to see how it’s defined and how it will operate."

The Crisis Solutions center would be voluntary and the client-staff ratio would be, at maximum, four-to-one. People with violent records would be ineligible. Clients would be free to leave at will—but a series of security measures, including alarms on doors, would ensure that clients leaving would be escorted from the neighborhood (and followed, if necessary) by DESC staff. At no time would clients be free to roam the Jackson Place neighborhood unattended. This is a misconception trumpeted repeatedly by opponents at last night's meeting.

Opponents of the center even acknowledge that it'll provide a vital social service for King County—and for people suffering from mental illness. "We don't dispute that the facility doesn't need to happen in King County," testified Carol Bennett, a Jackson Place resident. "I just don't want them here." (How generous of her.)

But this small group of people, calling themselves the Jackson Place Alliance for Equity, is attempting to block the center from moving to their neighborhood. They say it should be zoned as a prison instead of as a hospital (as the Department of Planning Development has declared it). A prison wouldn't be allowed in the area under current land use regulations.

Meanwhile, the DESC is committed to drafting a Good Neighbor Agreement with residents that could address everything from design issues (some neighbors behind the proposed site want the center's proposed outdoor smoking area hidden from view) to guidelines on how the center would operate, to how it would disseminate information and updates to residents. The DESC is also putting together a community advisory group to address ongoing questions and issues.

The DESC hopes to open the Crisis Solutions Center in July.