I was humored recently when I attended a community meeting hosted by Hernando County Administrator Len Sossamon. About 120 residents had shown up in order to share and listen to concerns of the community. The community gave a lot of good input, but one comment gave me pause to think.
A speaker talked with passion about THE Bus and asked if it were possible to have the service coordinated with the Pasco bus system for greater access to services. Seemed like a good idea to me. And then the unimaginable happened: They asked if that same bus might run through south Hernando, perhaps on Cobblestone Drive.
"No!" I heard a woman cry. "That's where I live and I don't want that bus on my road!"
Not in my back yard.
Here in Hernando County we are used to the cry "not in my back yard." We've heard it because of a dump location in Ridge Manor, a mental health facility on Grove Road, a medical clinic on Kass Circle, a sewer treatment plant on U.S. 19, places where Walmart wanted to add new locations, and yes — even a bus in someone's neighborhood. We fear those things that are different from us or those things that are outside of our comfort zone and so we strive to keep those things as far away as possible. Sometimes the fears are legitimate, but more often than not they are not.
One of Hernando County's crucial concerns right now is that of quality mental health care. I am hoping that in a new partnership with our county commissioners we can establish a Mental Health Alliance that will seek to bring in desperately needed finances from both the federal and state governments. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent are already working on ways to make this happen.
In our back yard a young man goes hospital to hospital seeking help, only to be turned away. Another cuts off his arm with a circular saw believing that his tattoos are evil. A lady wanders naked shouting about the end of the world before meeting her untimely death. Our suicide rate is 45 percent higher than the rest of the state and Baker Acts or involuntary admissions to a mental health facility are 72 percent higher over the state average. An average of 30 children a month face severe mental health challenges and we have no services for them. Mental health issues are very important as we have sorrowfully seen once again. We can't afford to put our heads in the sand or turn a blind eye to the needs of those around us. We can't simply tell people to go away. This is our community and this is our back yard.
We need a "Vincent House" where those with severe mental illness can learn job skills. We need ACT teams (assertive community treatment) where therapists and team members help those with mental illness in the community. We need our deputies to go through CIT — Crisis Intervention Training. We certainly need a place to be able to help our children. We need to be able to reach our children while they are young with evidence-based practices that will help them.
This is our back yard. I have traveled here for 30 years and have lived here for the past 15. I plan on staying here. I pray that we as a community will come together and demand these important services and that we seek to help those among us that may be having mental health issues. We want to be able to say "A mass shooting? Not in my back yard."
David Welch is president of NAMI Hernando and a residential counselor at WestBridge.