A couple of weeks ago The Dallas Morning News published an essay written by Adam Brenner, M. D. and associate professor of psychiatry and director of adult psychiatry residency training at UT Southwestern Medical Center ("Why not in your back yard?"). The good professor believes there is more to the fear people express about being near the homeless than we may have realized. He also counsels that an important part of any progress we make as a community will depend on us all getting to know one another. Brenner's point of view and his arguments should be taken seriously. Here's how he begins:
Why not in your back yard?
After controversy surrounding two initiatives for the homeless in North Texas this summer — one for permanent supported housing met by angry neighbors in Oak Cliff , another for homeless families derailed by anxious residents in Plano — it’s fair to wonder whether any such project can avoid the “not in my back yard” response.
Opposition to housing for the homeless is nothing new; opponents cite an array of understandable concerns about the impact on their communities — fears of crime and violence, lowered property value, disruption of neighborhood life. These objections cannot be blithely dismissed. While research on the local impact of shelters and supportive housing programs suggests that the results are generally neutral or positive, especially large or dense concentrations may have adverse effects if poorly planned or managed.
And yet, attempting to understand the emotional intensity of the opposition through a rational calculation of risks and benefits seems to fall short of capturing the whole picture. Something else, something more basic and less rational, seems to be at work. When faced with the prospect of marginalized and alienated people entering our community, something very primal in our brain is triggered — a categorization into “us” and “them,” along with a heightened sense of the dangers of “them.”
So, even though the “not in my back yard” reaction may draw on realistic concerns, it can simultaneously be driven by a set of neurobiologic processes that lead us to automatically and unconsciously reject those who are outsiders.
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