Sunday, January 21, 2007

Wrong to caricaturize victims of abuse as perpetrators and sexual abusers

Group home dispute gets heated
Councilman's remarks assailed
Yetter, Deborah. Louisville Courier-Journal, Jan. 17, 2007, pg. A1.

A dispute over a group home that Brooklawn Child & Family Services wants to open off Newburg Road has split the neighborhood and has Louisville Metro Councilman Jim King — who lives nearby — warning of "nuclear war."

The heated rhetoric and intensity of opposition caught Brooklawn by surprise, said David Graves, who runs the private residential center for emotionally disturbed youths on Goldsmith Lane.

Graves said he was particularly shocked by an anonymous flier handed out at a neighborhood meeting last week where King spoke. It calls on opponents to hold a protest Jan. 27 at Brooklawn's campus, suggesting the group home would bring in "an alien element and will destroy the quiet enjoyment of your property." - SELF-CENTERED

"To me, it's cruel to think children who've already been rejected time and time again would be subject to a group of people coming on campus and telling them they're not wanted," Graves said.

King said yesterday that he had nothing to do with the flier — he said it was produced by a resident — but he didn't object to it being handed out at the meeting.

"Everybody has First Amendment rights," he said. - EVEN COMPLETE A-HOLES

King, a Democrat who represents District 10, lives on Newburg Road near the proposed group home on Schuff Lane and recently purchased additional property, on which he proposes to build several homes for family and friends.

In e-mails to constituents and to Brooklawn, he has referred to the group home's potential residents as likely to be dangerous, violent and psychotic — which Graves said is incorrect.

Graves said the home would house up to eight teenage boys, ages 16 to 18, who have completed treatment at Brooklawn and need a place to live as they transition to independent life in the community through jobs, high school and college. Most would be victims of abuse and neglect, he said.

They would be supervised by Brooklawn staff; none would have felony convictions, Graves said.

King said several residents who oppose the home have hired a lawyer to challenge it, although they could not be reached yesterday.

Residents divided
Linda Mayer, president of the area's East Side Neighborhood Association, said that the group hasn't taken a position on the proposed home and that residents are divided on the issue.

Terry Singer, a neighbor who is dean of the University of Louisville's Kent School of Social Work, said he supports the proposal and is disappointed at some of King's comments.

"It's feeding the worst fears and it's not accurate," Singer said.

In a Nov. 11 e-mail to Brooklawn lawyer Carole Christian, King wrote that unless Brooklawn changes its plans for the site, "we will make every effort to impede Brooklawn's success."

He said Brooklawn should either sell the house and find another location or come up with an alternative to "keep this from becoming a nuclear war."

King also wrote in an e-mail to a constituent that some of the teens who would live at the group home "will be psychotic with a propensity for acting out sexually or violently."

He added in the e-mail, written to a supporter of the group home, that the youths would be "very capable of committing a sex crime against your wife and children."

King confirmed that he made those comments and said he stands by them. He said his main concern is that he doesn't believe the home meets zoning requirements.

Graves said zoning officials have told him the five-bedroom home that Brooklawn purchased last year needs no zoning change as long as it receives a state license, which Brooklawn is seeking.

Lack of space
Graves said that the state's child-welfare system is inundated with an increasing number of children and that Brooklawn routinely turns away youths for lack of room.

"It's just essential that we develop placement options for the children as they're ready to leave," he said.

Sheila Schuster, executive director of the Kentucky Mental Health Coalition, said her organization is appalled by what she said are King's inflammatory and inaccurate comments.

"We particularly don't need kids who have been victims of abuse mislabeled as perpetrators and sex abusers," Schuster said.

State funding opposed
King also has angered some local lawmakers who are seeking to restore $2 million in state funds cut last year from Brooklawn, which had planned to use the money to expand services and facilities, including group homes like the one in dispute.

In his e-mail to Brooklawn's attorney, King said some neighbors are "planning to employ a lobbyist to oppose Brooklawn's attempt to get $2 million from the state legislature."

That prompted a scolding from state Rep. Larry Clark, D-Louisville, a member of the House leadership. He said the Jefferson County legislative delegation is committed to making sure the state restores the money.

In a Dec. 7 letter to King, Clark cited Brooklawn's "proven track record in the community" and said he was "extremely concerned" about King's "intimidating, provocative rhetoric."

Rep. Tom Burch, D-Buechel, whose district includes Brooklawn, said he supports the group home and discussed the matter with King several weeks ago.

"I would say Jim is way off base in this," Burch said. "Who in their right mind in politics would attack children who have been abused?"


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