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I have several concerns with the recent article in The News about the Permanent Human Services Agency Siting Review Committee of Erie County discussing the situation of residents at Rosalinda Manor. One issue is the way in which the term "mental illness" is so loosely used to refer to individuals who may simply be a bit different than others.

Differences in appearance are not always a sign of mental illness. I suspect our social environment plays a large role in why certain individuals live on the margins of things and seem not to fit. For reasons that are very complex, some individuals find themselves displaced, without the support system most of us take for granted. In many cases, they are not mentally ill but lost in a world they find quite unfriendly. We are not particularly "forgiving" or accepting of such individuals. We call them ill, but they are a symptom of a larger social ill that accepts that a large number of individuals will be displaced and live without adequate supports.

In some cases, of course, mental illness is an issue. That should not be surprising. For several years now, a process has been under way that puts individuals out of institutions into the community. In most instances, this is a positive step. Even those with a mental-health disability have a right to live as members of our community, and most do quite appropriately. However, this is possible only if resources ensure adequate support. This is where we are failing.

A sufficient amount of resources to ensure adequate support (quite simple and inexpensive case management, for example) have not followed these individuals into the community. Advocates for those with a mental-health disability have been saying this for quite some time now. With adequate support, most individuals who are struggling with a mental illness can, and do, live quite productive lives in our community.

As to the county's siting committee, recent actions demonstrate it is a bad idea getting worse. The committee is involved in an issue bigger than it is prepared to address.

I fear that the committee is not interested in helping solve the problem of how best to respond to individuals in our community with special needs. Too often, it appears to obstruct those who are seeking viable solutions. The committee seems to hope that problems will go away by shutting the doors to human-service agencies. So long as we take a short-sighted approach to such large issues, the problem will not go away, but will actually get worse.

Charles J. Sabatino Amherst

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