I have been reading about Step Up on Second’s plan to acquire the property at 1826 Pearl St. to house and treat young men with mental disorders. I grew up in Sunset Park and know it as a solid family-oriented community. While your goal is commendable, WHY HAVE YOU CHOSEN A LOCATION DIRECTLY IN THE MIDDLE OF A RESIDENTIAL NEIGHBORHOOD SURROUNDED BY SCHOOLS!
John Adams Middle School on Pearl St. has over 1,200 students ages 11 to 14 and is ONLY TWO BLOCKS AWAY! Grant Elementary School, also on Pearl St., with over 650 children ages 5 to 11 enrolled, is only FOUR BLOCKS AWAY! Will Rogers Elementary School also has over 600 children ages 5 to 11 and is only FIVE BLOCKS AWAY! These children are constantly moving around the neighborhood, walking to school, playing with friends after school, etc., and your proposed project is a risk to their safety, regardless of what you say.
Two questions need to be answered:
(1) Why do you insist on using the Pearl St. location for your project when there are other locations available that would serve your purpose?
(2) Why are eight or 10 mentally ill patients more important than 2,500 innocent school children?
These children are the most precious possessions of the Sunset Park community and their families, and you owe them an explanation!
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Why is it that every time someone voices their opposition to your proposed site at Pearl St., you, or the people in your organization, respond that our feelings “are based on a complete lack of understanding about mental illness.” How can you presume to know what our understanding of mental illness is? The answer is, you can’t and it’s arrogant of you to think you can! You also keep going on about “being a good neighbor,” yet you do NOT hear what we have to say and I truly believe that you do NOT care about what we have to say regarding this matter! At the FOSP meeting, you heard family after family voice their opposition to the Pearl St. site, yet at Step Up’s meeting the next day you “voted to continue to move forward with the project.” How dare you disregard our feelings and lives this way!! Why do you feel that it is OK to lie to us and say you want to be a good neighbor when you obviously don’t?! This shows me and the community that the only thing you care about is your own agenda and certainly not the feelings of our neighborhood!
You gave further evidence to this by the way you took over the FOSP meeting and turned it into a “Friends of Step Up” testimonial instead of the question and answer session that it was meant to be. I have to admit that I was very impressed by the way you did this, you filled the meeting place with Step Up staff, residents, family members of residents and people who had family that were mentally ill and wanted to tell us how they felt. You are also very well schooled in the art of deflection and redirection. I say this because there were a number of very important questions asked of you, and these questions were not answered clearly and sometimes not at all. The 15 minutes you were supposed to take to give us a quick briefing on Step Up turned into 30 minutes of testimonial after testimonial, totally ignoring the reason for the meeting: TO LET THE NEIGHBORHOOD ASK QUESTIONS AND TELL YOU HOW WE FEEL!! And instead of the neighborhood getting the chance to ask these questions, you somehow gained control of the meeting, and for the majority of the remaining time, you AGAIN kept calling on people from your organization to give testimonials about Step Up! Our voices were barely heard and each response from you and your staff was that we need to be better educated in regards to mental illness!
You say you would like to have another “meeting” with FOSP and the community, but if you already know you will go ahead with the project if you get funding, what is the point? You have already demonstrated that you’ve disregarded the neighborhood’s feelings and wishes, so why should we attend another Step Up show? I think that a lot of the neighborhood feels disrespected and outraged because you are trying to force something on us that we do not want. Most of us have been here many, many years, and here YOU are making life-changing decisions about our community that go against our wishes! Can you honestly not see why we would feel this way? We also feel frustrated and neglected by our city’s councilmembers who seem to only hear your voice and not ours. The outrageous actions and negative comments of Mr. Katz at the FOSP meeting left many of us simply astounded. He showed that he obviously does not represent our community or want to hear what we have to say.
Finally, I’ll once again ask that you hear our voices: “Please do not go ahead with the proposed Step Up project at Pearl St!!” If you choose to respond, please refrain from answering with the standard rhetoric that we have all become so used to. I would truly appreciate an honest reply for once.
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Shasha [sic] Stone, your so-called TV critic should be confined to her reporting of Hollywood gossip. Her comments on the 9/11 movie shows that she cannot swallow the truth. We anxiously await her review of the Canadian movie depicting the assassination of President Bush.
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Dear Step Up Board Members,
I am forwarding the attached letter to you because I feel it is important you see first-hand how some in the community feel about your proposed transitional housing project at 1826 Pearl. And, while I have your attention, I’d like to add a few comments of my own.
I am not an immediate neighbor, nor do I have anything against the mentally ill. My sister is schizophrenic, so I GREATLY appreciate what you are trying to do. However, this is NOT an appropriate location for it. There are too many children at potential risk here – many who are immediate neighbors, and hundreds more who walk past this property daily because it is their only route to school.
Tod Lipka has said that schizophrenia is an illness, no different from diabetes. I beg to differ. Diabetes is predictable, and has no consequences, other than to the sufferer, should it spin out of control. But schizophrenia is not predictable. When my sister does not take her medication, sometimes she seems normal, and sometimes she exhibits bizarre behavior and can become very abusive. There’s no way to predict how she will react.
It really comes down to the fact that there is no way to guarantee that your clients will pose no threat to our community’s children. I agree with Mr. Lipka that it is not likely. But it is not impossible, either.
So why take the risk?
If you were to locate your facility on Pico or Ocean Park Blvd. few if any in the Sunset Park neighborhood would object. Why would you want to impose what is, essentially, a business which serves transient, at-risk residents, upon a stable, child-centered family neighborhood?
It is not good for the neighbors, it is not good for the children, it is not good for Step Up and it is not good for Step Up’s clients. It is a lose-lose situation. If Step Up moves ahead and shoves this facility down the community’s throat – which is the way many in the neighborhood see it, I fear – things can only get worse.
I would hate to see that. It undermines all the good that you as an organization do.
And, should anything happen in the future, you will have to take responsibility for putting our children in jeopardy. I sincerely hope I can never say, “I told you so” – but it is all too real a possibility.
Phil Harnage, Sunset Park resident since 1987
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At Samohi: “We Welcome Parent Involvement. Not.”
We’ve all heard Samohi administrators and PTSA leaders say “We welcome parent involvement,” but it appears that’s not the case, if qualified parents want to volunteer their services having to do with college counseling or college essay writing. Under the umbrella of my company, College Maestro, I offer independent college counseling and college essay tutoring. The latest rebuff from the Samohi “administration” came when I was told that I could not participate with a table at the Samohi College Fair October 3, although test prep companies like Princeton Review, which also offer independent college counseling and college essay tutoring for fees, will be allowed to participate.
The administration’s stated rationale is that school personnel already offer college counseling and college essay tutoring, but that since test prep is not offered by high school personnel, those companies will be given tables at the college fair. However, test prep companies tutor students in math and English, the subject matter of the tests, which are also taught by school personnel. What is the logic of including test prep companies and excluding independent college counselors and college essay tutors from the college fair? Furthermore, test prep is offered at Samohi, for a fee.
This same exclusionary thinking has motivated administrators and the PTSA to turn down my offer to present a free college essay writing seminar to all Samohi students and parents for going on five years now.
When my son wanted to start a FIRST Robotics Competition team at Samohi, we obtained a NASA grant of $6,000 per year for two years to start a rookie team at Samohi, but the team wasn’t allowed to build their robot on the Samohi campus, and eventually my son had to leave and join a robotics team in the South Bay. Apparently Samohi doesn’t welcome student involvement either.
What is going on here? Do Samohi staff members feel like their toes are being stepped on? I hope not. An offer to help is not an insult to those fine college counselors and English teachers who face daunting hurdles in guiding students. At Samohi we have two college counselors for 3,600 students (which translates to 1/2 hour per student per year); English teachers routinely have classes of 40 students, presenting them with a staggering volume of essays and papers to grade. The average student today applies to 5 – 12 colleges, and each of those colleges can require three or more essays, which comes to a total of 15-36 essays. Last year many Samohi English teachers offered one session on writing the college essay, and would give feedback on just one college essay. Qualified parents who can offer some of these services, and are willing to share their expertise for free, as I and others have been, should be welcomed on campus, and at the college fair, not rebuffed.