Showing We Care, in Word & in Deed

On Monday, the Valparaiso City Council rejected the chance for two local nonprofits, Housing Opportunities and Porter-Starke Services, to apply for a housing grant using federal tax credits to develop 31 units of affordable housing in Valparaiso. As President/CEO of Porter-Starke Services and a Valparaiso resident, I feel personally hurt and dumbfounded that some of our Council members and fellow citizens objected to bringing over ten million dollars into our community because this initiative was ?in their backyard.?

Over 25% of Valparaiso children receive free or reduced lunch at school, and multiple city-wide organizations have publicly affirmed the need for affordable housing. Yet, this need was disregarded out of fear and misunderstanding, particularly about people we serve at Porter-Starke Services. People who live and work in this community were deemed dangerous for no reason other than how much money they make or the health services they may require.

As your community mental health center, we serve over 14,000 people annually. Our clients are your friends and family: one in five adults has a diagnosable mental health condition, like depression or anxiety. Most won?t tell you because of the stigma towards people with mental illness witnessed on Monday night.

We do not judge people for a broken arm, heart problems, or other physical ailments. We encourage them to see a doctor for appropriate treatment. But mental health is not usually thought of like physical health, even though mental illness can be just as disabling. It disrupts a person?s ability to work, carry out daily activities, and engage in satisfying relationships. Unfortunately, our clients, who have made the courageous choice to walk through our doors for treatment, were judged by some as disgusting and dangerous.

We heard stories about judging others by how they look, then deciding their harmless actions indicated potential for criminal activity. In reality, people with serious mental health problems are no more likely to be violent than anyone else. Instead, over 25% of people with severe mental illness are victims of a violent crime annually, in addition to experiencing exploitation and discrimination.

Affordable housing needs and mental health challenges both remain difficult realities. But we can choose how we respond to these needs in our community. Rather than reacting with fear and stereotyping, I invite you to try responding with care and compassion.

If you found yourself facing a crisis, where would you turn for support? Who could you count on to accept you unconditionally? To educate and empower our community to help anyone facing a mental health problem, we offer regular Mental Health First Aid trainings. This course teaches everyday people, like neighbors, parents, and teachers, what to do when they notice somebody who needs help. Please visit?www.porterstarke.org/mhfa?to learn more and sign up.

We?ll continue to look for ways to serve the most vulnerable members of our community, and in the future, we hope you will join us ?not only in word, but in deed.