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Mentally ill get cold shoulder from new neighbors

"There’s no welcome wagon planned for some new residents in two East Bremerton and South Kitsap neighborhoods.On Petersville Road just outside the Bremerton city limits and on Harris Road south of Port Orchard, Kitsap Mental Health Services and the Kitsap Consol-idated Housing Authority plan to build independent-living homes for mentally ill people.But many neighbors in both locations don’t want the $1.6 million project to happen so close to home.“I think it’s too big for the neighborhood,” said Bill McCandless, a resident of Harris Road for more than two decades. Kitsap Mental Health Services (KMHS) proposes housing eight individuals in each area, and in the Harris Road case, eight cottages were on the original building plan.Janet Mayberry, development director for KMHS, said the reaction of Petersville Road residents to the planned project “was a little bit disappointing.” She said KMHS is still fielding questions from these residents about the kinds of mentally ill people likely to become their neighbors.Mayberry also said neighborhood input caused architects and project planners to reconsider the design, planning duplexes or quadruplexes instead. “The Harris Road residents told us that they thought a larger home (duplex or quadruplex) would raise the value of their own homes,” she said. That plan would also be more cost-effective in terms of construction costs, she added.But Harris Road resident Jerry Rice and other neighbors near both project sites said they thought the development would decrease their property values.“I’ve seen what happens in other places,” Rice said, “They let places like that (serving mentally ill people) go to hell. Our property is devalued enough without that going in.”Mayberry characterized the Harris Road residents’ response to the project as generally positive, with “good comments.” But none of the six families contacted at random by a Kitsap Newspaper Group reporter – half of them from Harris Road, half from Petersville Road – supported the project.There will be no sexual predators, no violent offenders and no drug abusers, Mayberry said. Although KMHS hasn’t selected the tenants, she called the selection process “highly competitive.” These are permanent residences, not just temporary housing for the mentally ill, she said.The residents might have anxiety disorders, a bi-polar personality or be schizophrenic, Mayberry said, but all of them must take their prescribed medications to qualify for living on their own. And they won’t be entirely on their own. Although there is no live-in staff, support comes from case managers and 24-hour hospital and mental health resources, Mayberry noted.A Petersville Road mother who didn’t want to be identified said the government agencies’ reassurances are small comfort.“I don’t trust the state,” she said, adding that schizophrenic people “scare me a little bit.” She added, “This is a difficult issue for me because I believe everybody should have a right to live on their own.” For McCandless on Harris Road, mentally ill neighbors are a heightened concern because a children’s daycare is located nearby. “I’d prefer to see it (the housing project) somewhere else. There are 10 or 12 kids at that daycare,” he said. “It’s not appropriate.”Mayberry said there are many safeguards in place. She said one neighbor, who could not be reached for comment, said during a public meeting that the development was a positive thing because there are usually no restrictions on who can move into a neighborhood.Robin Reiselman, a 13-year Petersville Road resident and father of two, has followed this issue for more than a year. He said neighbors have “lots of bad feelings” about the project. “This whole thing kind of stunk to us,” he said.Although KMHS converted its plan to build eight cottages on Petersville Road into a plan to build two quadriplexes, Reiselman said the project is still out of place in his neighborhood. “We prefer a house, a single-family dwelling in this neighborhood,” Reiselman said. “But at this point we realize there’s nothing we can do. The county is going to push this on us.”According to Reiselman, three neighbors have moved away because the project was coming to the area. And he said two of the three homes’ new occupants are incensed by the planned development. It’s not so much the buildings themselves, he said, as “I don’t think they will stand out as a glaring change to this neighborhood.” Instead, Reiselman said, it’s the fear of the unknown, the fear of what mentally ill people might do in the neighborhood. Mayberry said as residents express concerns about their new mentally ill neighbors, KMHS is prepared to educate them and offer tours of the facility—“whatever we can do to make them more comfortable.”In mid-January, Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority will conduct a public meeting to further discuss the design of the buildings. The meeting’s exact date was not available at press time."

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