by Max Brantley
Those who stayed until the bitter end of last night's Little Rock City Board meeting would have heard a thoughtful plea from a retired Air Force officer/physician in support of the Main Street center for veterans. He spoke in part of the myth — propagated by Mayor Mark Stodola — that only homeless are served there and that vets in need of a variety of services are somehow a threat to the community.
It was a welcome antidote to the themes of Mayor Stodola and U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin that Main Street Little Rock is too good for veterans services.
Robert Johnston, a vet and homeless advocate who's championed the cause of the Main Street center, points me to an article in the New York Times about the need for such services and vets' reluctance to seek mental health help. It should be made even more accessible, not shuffled to the boondocks far removed from civilized eyes, as the mayor and Griffin seem to favor. Some excerpting by Johnston:
“We need to look at this as a community health problem…We can’t just say it’s a federal health problem.”…. one of the more surprising findings was that despite having higher rates of P.T.S.D. than the general population, the New York veterans …were considerably less likely to abuse drugs. And they were no more likely than the general population to be binge or problem drinkers. “There is a stereotype of veterans as substance abusers…it doesn’t appear to be true with this era’s veterans.”….22 percent of the veterans surveyed had either post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, or both
Johnston's e-mail drew a comment from Herb Rule, a vet and Democratic candidate for 2nd District Congress, who thinks continued discussion could put neighbors at ease about services planned on Main Street. He wrote:
This is incredibly timely and comforting to know there are thoughtful and compassionate scholars interested in learning more about the hidden causes of illness, studying the variants that contribute to cures, and then trying to do something productive about it.
In contrast the LR Board's Marx Brothers routine (or "Kiss" depending on your generation) and the uncontrolled rancor of some of those in the Quapaw Quarter exposes a wider need for study and counselling.
Again, despite what you might have heard from the mayor, all vets served in this facility are not homeless. He was also in error when he said Our House, a facility for the homeless, is only six blocks from the decrepit Union Rescue Mission site — in a flood plain and inaccessible to the handicapped — that Stodola has suggested as an alternative. It's a solid mile — separated by an interstate highway and several of the alcohol sellers that the mayor claims are such attractive nuisances to vets.
I posted last night Stodola's memo to the board — unfortunately not shared before the meeting with the big crowd hoping to speak — asking for a deferral of the issue. High irony that he'd see a potential bureaucratic way to stop the vets center because it may spend TOO MUCH on rehabilitating a defunct auto dealership on Main for vets' use.