Sharyl J. Kato: Don't put homeless shelter next to clinic for kids

2012-11-15T04:30:00Z Sharyl J. Kato: Don't put homeless shelter next to clinic for kidsSHARYL J. KATO | director of the Rainbow Project

Dane County has proposed moving a homeless day shelter next to our Rainbow Project clinic that serves children and their families on East Washington Avenue in Madison.

We were never consulted on this decision and only informed in the 11th hour that a vote on the proposal would occur at Thursday's County Board meeting at 7 p.m. at the City-County Building. A public hearing will be held before the vote.

The Rainbow Project board of directors, advisory committee, staff, volunteers and consumers strongly and emphatically oppose this site.

This is not about stigmatizing the homeless. The Rainbow Project provides services for young children and infants through 10 years of age and their adult caregivers who are victims of trauma, including sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse, neglect, community violence, grief and loss, natural disasters, severe accidents, chronic physical illness and other challenges.

This is not about who is most vulnerable and fragile — it is simply not a good match.

Madison Police Department records indicate more than 80 calls for service in just three months at the Occupy Now encampment across the street from our property earlier in the year. This included calls on theft, damage to property, noise, disturbances, battery, threats, robbery and aggravated battery.

The families we work with are trying to work to recover and heal from their trauma. The National Traumatic Network Association indicates victims under the age of 6 are at the greatest risk of developing post-traumatic disorders, which impacts neurobiology and early brain development.

It is proposed that an estimated 90 homeless individuals will be next door with one or two shelter staff supervising. No one has answered our inquiries about how the shelter staff will monitor registered sex offenders who are legally prohibited to reside near a facility where children are present.

We believe homeless individuals need a safe and warm shelter during the winter, and they need permanent housing and mental health and substance abuse treatment. We serve some homeless families and know that many of them have reported not feeling safe in shelters.

Unlike Downtown businesses worried about the homeless and the impact from a dollar perspective, we are worried about safety of our consumers. We do not have the clout and dollars to pressure decision makers to influence where shelters are located.

We feel we have been ignored and placated because our consumers do not vote, and we are a small nonprofit. We will not be the scapegoats for this community's poverty and homeless problems.

We have also been caught in the crossfire between the city and county accusing each other of not doing enough for the homeless. It is the county's attempt to publicly show they are doing something, but it is clearly at the expense of the young children and adult caregivers we work with.

While we speak, the Rainbow Project waiting list grows. We have served over 8,000 young children and 7,000 adults who have experienced trauma. Those who have gathered the courage to ask for help and work hard to overcome the fears, anxieties and immobilizing impacts of trauma deserve to do so in a timely way. And they shouldn't have to navigate barriers at the place where they are to be healed.

Sharyl J. Kato, a child and family therapist, is director of the Rainbow Project on Madison's Near East Side.

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