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Group homes present ethical issue

March 26, 2012
By G. Michael Dobbs
news@thereminder.com
Recently I attended a meeting of the McKnight Neighborhood Council at which residents of that Springfield neighborhood discussed the plans of the South Middlesex Opportunity Council (SMOC) to establish a group home for 12 women who are trying to recover from addiction.
The residents had a battery of questions for the SMOC officials, one of who seemed to be offended by the queries early on in the meeting. By the close of the 90-minute session, he seemed to have mellowed out considerably.
Because the program is deemed as educational, the Dover Amendment protects it, preventing neighbors and municipalities from contesting whether or not the placement of such a program is appropriate.
McKnight is an interesting historic neighborhood that has come back due to the hard work of individual homeowners who have lovingly restored much of the housing stock. Naturally, they would have questions about another group home and its impact on the neighborhood.
There are group home facilities in my neighborhood as well and I'm willing to bet if you live in an urban community with larger, older homes there's a good chance you have group homes as well.
The argument against group homes is that they could depress housing values and affect a neighborhood because many people might be leery of living near one. The apprehension stems from not knowing exactly who is living in the home and how closely supervised that program may be.
The other side of the argument is that no one should be discriminated against and should be able to live in any neighborhood, regardless if they are in a program for a behavioral problem or an addiction.
The simple truth, though, is that group homes are placed in communities where cheap housing stock exists. Wealthier communities generally do no have them.
The Dover Amendment bypasses local zoning laws, rules that have been set up to provide a framework for community planning and protection of homeowners from businesses that might negatively impact them.
While people might point to police statistics to show that group homes do not increase crime in a neighborhood, there is a certain level of arrogance that accompanies the premise that the concerns of a group of residents
— especially in a diverse, working class neighborhood such as McKnight — are automatically dismissed in a discussion about where a group home is placed.
I'm not against programs such as this one. But I would like to think there could be some sort of middle ground in this process. Right now, there isn't one.
***

Remember the game of "Telephone?" Do you recall how immensely garbled a simple string of words could become when repeated around a circle of people?
We had a great example of 21st Century "telephone" last week with the twisted coverage of "O'Green Day" on the calendar of the Soule Road Elementary School in the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District.
It seems school officials used the phrase as way to encourage kids to dress in green for St. Patrick's Day. They have used color theme days in the past for other holidays.
abc40 first reported the story — the video is no longer available — and before you know it, the Huffington Post, IrishCentral.com and FOX News picked it up, as well as The Republican. It would appear that many of these outlets simply repeated posts from one another.
The thrust of at least some of these reports was the incident was a re-naming of the holiday and an effort with more sinister motivations. According to the Glenn Beck website, "an elementary school has removed the name St. Patrick's Day from all of the flyers, posters, etc. and replaced the holiday with O'Green Day — a perfect double whammy of anti-religious and pro-green movement indoctrination."
Really, this was about the green movement? No, Glenn. You're way off base and if you had done your own research you might have come to another conclusion.
First, was this a story? No. Secondly, why did people simply repeat the story from one another? Because it was easy and because they made certain assumptions.
Everyone in this business makes mistakes, but they should own up to them and this reporting didn't accomplish anything but stirring up a timely controversy.
Hey, agree with me? Disagree? Drop me a line at news@thereminder.com or at 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. As always, this column represents the opinion of its author and not the publishers or advertisers of this newspaper.
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