Tomorrow is the final hearing on Wounded Warriors of Collier County’s application for Reasonable Accommodation and/or Variance, which will allow them to provide the necessary recovery residential environment for 7 unrelated residents and 1 house manager (3 more than allowed by local zoning) for young veterans who are homeless after serving their country and returning with the psychological traumas of active battlefield conflict (PTSD, TBI, etc.) and now substance misuse/abuse/addiction. I am very pleased to serve as an Expert Witness for them and to serve as co-counsel to the wonderful Rebeca Linz of the local Dentons law firm (both Rebeca and I are representing this organization pro bono/for free).
The City has been “cooperative” by laying out the welcome mat at first, and then pulling it away when we followed their directions of how to obtain local approvals.
Neighbors of the community closest to the proposed residence came to the last hearing in open opposition (notwithstanding outreach from Wounded Warriors) and openly argued the “Not In My Backyard” card at the last hearing. And while many voices in support did speak out so eloquently and impassioned, those words were often drowned out by cat-calls and other behaviors from those in opposition, unbecoming of a civil public hearing. This is, unfortunately, nothing new, and has existed in town halls across the country for many decades.
What should otherwise be a feel-good story with a favorable outcome for all has itself become polarized by the same current affairs impacting our country. Except, for these people, there will be no “George Floyd” moment for them. If anything, the open and collective (and practically celebrated) discrimination and prejudice and stigma that this population must endure and has endured for generations continues. We still remain very tribal and clan-like in our instincts towards others who are different.
We invite you to watch tomorrow’s hearing to understand and appreciate the grassroots efforts that it takes simply to get a FARR (Florida Association of Recovery Residences) certified house approved in many jurisdictions in Florida. It’s the same, if not worse, in less-educated parts of the state and country. It will not be pretty. And we may lose. But not because the law is not clearly on our side. Justice takes a long time, and a lot of tenacity, perseverance, and belief in purpose.
Housing is a fundamental right, for all people. For those not at risk to themselves or others, people with all forms of mental illness have the right to housing of their own choosing. It also has been demonstrably proven that a peer-supported recovery residence has exceptional outcomes for people in recovery. They simply need proper housing, not institutionalization.
To our supporters – Veterans:
Finally at last, we are on the Naples City Council’s agenda this Wednesday, 9/2 at 10:00 am to hear our petition to house more than 4 Veterans in our Alpha House. Earlier in the year, Naples Planning and Zoning Board recommended 6 Veterans and 1 mentor under the provisions of Reasonable Accommodation, Fair Housing Act & the ADA.
It is up to the Naples City Council to approve or disapprove. Veterans come home to communities not governments, and change and help can only take place if communities, local governments, and the VA come together.
You can watch the hearing on Comcast 98 or you can stream by clicking on the following link: https://www.naplesgov.com/cityclerk/page/agendas-minutes-streaming-videos
Seating is limited and social distancing will be enforced. A TV monitor and chairs will be set up outside in the entry area (covered).
It has been one year since we first met with the city of Naples. Not only has it cost us time and money but also valuable resources of those who have donated their time. “No Veteran Left Behind in Collier County”