Six. That is the number of young McLean residents I know personally who have died from an opiate overdose. This number does not capture the countless more young people I know from my town who have survived an overdose and whose lives have been ruined by addiction. Nor does it represent those who have died by suicide or who suffer from debilitating mental illness. I had a safe, loving experience growing up in McLean. Despite my comfortable upbringing, many of my peers were not so lucky. They suffered from addiction and mental illness, and were hindered in seeking help because of stigma and shame. There is a pitiful lack of services for youth suffering from these diseases, and those who seek help are often unable to access it, even in our affluent town.
I am often embarrassed when I tell people where I'm from. When I mention McLean, many people wrinkle their noses, assuming I am a snob before they've had a chance to get to know me. I fight back against this stereotype, but after witnessing my community's reaction to the possible opening of Newport Academy, I fear the stereotype is grounded in truth. I felt shame, sadness, and anger watching the footage of my neighbors cruelly heckle the people bravely sharing how Newport Academy and other rehabilitation facilities have helped them through the hardest times in their lives. My stomach dropped when I read Supervisor Foust's comment to WUSA9, which reads "[o]ne company buying multiple homes on the same street -- in my opinion, that changes the neighborhood and I am opposed."
I understand that you are tax paying homeowners. I acknowledge that the idea of a group home is frightening to the more traditional and even close-minded members of our town. But I know I speak on behalf of other McLean residents when I say that prejudice against youth experiencing addiction and mental illness has no place in our community. Many of these fears -- that the homes will be dangerous, that they will change the character of our neighborhoods, that they will be a commercial enterprise in a residential area -- are unfounded and frankly, ignorant. Three residential homes on a quiet back street is not a commercial enterprise. Youth trying to rehabilitate are not to be feared. For-profit community based treatment centers are a necessary resource in a state with a deficit of mental health services. I know some may disagree, but I will not allow largely unfounded concerns about traffic to act as a cover for the real reason for opposition. I will not stand by in silence and allow this ignorance to proliferate. These fear-mongering sentiments do not represent the community I know and love.
I urge you to reconsider your position on Newport Academy, and in doing so, I am asking you to recognize that this community comprises more than a cohort of citizens scared of opening their arms to vulnerable youth by reason of bias and prejudice. Our town includes many, many young people who need the kind of help Newport Academy provides. By rejecting Newport, you send a message that the stigma they feel is real, and that they should not seek the help they desperately need. But, by accepting Newport, you send a message that McLean is an open, progressive community that welcomes struggling youth seeking treatment with open arms.