by Max Brantley
The subject is a familiar one here: A day drop-in center for veterans, now in inadequate quarters at 2nd and Ringo. The VA hopes to move to a larger space by renovating an abandoned car dealership on Main, about a mile from current quarters. The proposal has set off a neighborhood debate. Mayor Mark Stodola has violently opposed the move and he's been joined by Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, who'll bring in the Republican chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee, Jeff Miller of Florida, to buttress his opposition to better services for veterans. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette editorial page has contributed shrill and inaccurate commentary in support of Stodola and Griffin.
Care for some calm recitation of facts and answers to questions neighbors have posed about the center? The VA has posted many on their Facebook page. Examples:
* NOTICE: Once public notice was given last summer that a new location was being sought, why weren't city officials informed of potential locations:
The VA is prohibited by federal law, specifically the Federal Acquisition Regulations, from discussing specific locations after a statement for offers is sent out. This means that the VA would have broken the law had they discussed the 1000 Main Street location or any other location that submitted an offer prior to the contract actually being signed.
* WHY WEREN'T OTHER LOCATIONS CONSIDERED: We've delved into this before, a subject that inevitably touches on the opposition to anything the VA proposes, such as when Mayor Stodola stood in the way of converting an auto parts warehouse across the street from the Salvation Army homeless shelter at Markham and Cross into a new home for the VA. A stoop where the homeless still congregate in front of the now-vacant building is a testament to the mayor's argument four years ago that this was a "redevelopment corridor."
Many other locations have been reviewed since 2006. Approximately 27 locations have been informally reviewed by the Veterans Day (Drop In) Treatment Center Director to ensure viable options were in the downtown Little Rock and North Little Rock area. A map outlining the area of consideration and 27 locations was recently shared with the Downtown Neighborhood Association upon their request. It has been widely known for many years that the VA wanted to relocate to larger space within the downtown area.
* FEAR FOR CHILDREN: Won't more dangerous people be on streets? The VA responds, first, that mentally ill people are all around us, regardless of neighborhood. The critical issue is reaching them.
...The fear related to putting children at risk should be higher today since the street homeless already in the area are not in treatment.
Evidence shows that this program will decrease the number of homeless on the streets, not increase the number. This program provides treatment. Several current enrollees in our program attended the DNA meeting on January 12th, and never became hostile, aggressive, or otherwise displayed any behavior other than that of perfect ladies and gentlemen, despite the barrage of derogatory comments they heard. I would be surprised if most in attendance even knew they were “homeless Veterans”. One of those Veterans, the speaker, was even challenged when he attempted to vote as a resident in the downtown area, presumably because he simply lives his life in the area and was not known to the DNA.
Stigma and ignorance lead to fear, and fear exaggerates perceived risks. CAVHS, regardless of our clinic location, will continue to combat this stigma through education, responsiveness, and compassion. ..
These and many more questions and answers might not sway opponents. But none should say answers to questions aren't being provided. I'd guess anyone who'd like to log into the page with more questions — or voice criticism or support — will be welcome.