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posted: 11/14/2012 6:27 AM

Editorial: Moving past fear on supportive housing

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

In Wheeling, it's about homes for mentally disabled people. In Campton Hills, it's about a place for people to stay during treatment for alcohol and drug addiction. The proposals are different, but the reaction is similar: opponents worried about home values and security want those facilities to locate somewhere other than their neighborhoods.

That routine plays out again and again in the suburbs, more often ending in court than in any consensus on how to provide housing -- long or short term -- for people with certain diagnoses.

The need is irrefutable.

The task force behind the PhilHaven proposal in Wheeling notes that while mental illness is the leading cause of disability in adults under 44, there is almost no subsidized housing with support services for people with mental disabilities in the suburbs. They end up with relatives, homeless or inappropriately placed in nursing homes.

Here in our pages, we have paid special attention to the growing toll of substance abuse in the suburbs. The proposal for a Kiva Recovery Center in Campton Hills, a $30,000-per-month private residential treatment center, could address that issue for at least some recovering addicts.

Yet, opponents' concerns about their families and their neighborhoods cannot be dismissed out of hand. They have viewpoints and questions, and those need to be addressed.

How, then, to reach some common ground that satisfies neighbors and acknowledges the challenge to meet individuals' treatment and housing needs in our communities?

The answer, in part, might lie in the process. Local planning and zoning board hearings, where such housing proposals often are heard, aren't cut out for the kind of give and take that allows residents to ask questions and get direct answers from developers or from municipal staff. The approval process isn't set up to foster meetings between those who need such services and those who oppose the projects.

A more creative, if labor-intensive, approach would address peoples' fears in a low-key setting, refuting those based on misinformation and adjusting development plans to ease others.

The PhilHaven backers aren't strangers to this approach, having recruited local leaders, nonprofit partners and families of those with mental illness to promote their cause. They recently broke ground on a 39-unit supportive housing project set to open next year in Mount Prospect.

Yet, confrontation often is still part of the equation. PhilHaven's backers sued in federal court after Wheeling rejected that proposal. Opponents of Kiva, now before the Campton Hills village board, are pushing for a referendum.

Thinking regionally, "no" can't be the answer. The suburbs need ways to house and support the homeless, the recovering addict, the mentally disabled. Rather than letting residents' fears and concerns be the final word, it's crucial to address those issues and move beyond them, creating a model that can help towns deal with such perennial issues.

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