In Support of Veterans…and Landmark Place

American Flag by Sarah Carlson, Lace Mill artistFifty years ago, I was drafted into the United States Army along with thousands of other Americans.  Though I was drafted into the Army, I’m proud of my service to my country. I spent 12 months with the 1st Infantry Division in Vietnam.  When I returned, I took full advantage of the GI Bill to complete my college degrees and advance my education.

After 40 years of working and having a wonderful family with my wife, Valerie, I began to have emotional problems related to my military experience.  For 10 years, I have been going to the VA Clinic in Kingston and the VA Hospital in Albany. With the help of the Ulster County Veterans Service Agency and the great support of people I know in Kingston, I find myself lucky compared to most veterans I meet. My medical condition is not good presently, partially related to my exposure to Agent Orange. For many years I went to consultations with the Veterans Service Agency at the Alms House (soon to be Landmark Place), which is now being considered for low-income housing by RUPCO.

Many times I had asked, “Where in Kingston or Ulster County are there apartments or living areas for Veterans?”  I was told the closest one is in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. After speaking with RUPCO about this, I learned that if the Alms House is used by RUPCO, 10 apartments will be made available to veterans.  I think this is a good idea, and I know there is a controversy, but it’s the first time I’ve heard that any housing would be made available to consider Veterans in Kingston or Ulster County. Something tangible and realistic could be done for homeless veterans.  Many need a place to live. Very few are loved.

Dennis Connors, Kingston NY

Artwork by Sarah Carlson, Lace Mill resident
WIMBY: Welcome in My Backyard

WIMBY: Welcome in My BackyardTwo words I believe are very dangerous together, though benign alone: Us. Them.

Uttered in singularity, neither word brings much to mind except perhaps a grade school spelling test or two. Uttered together in virtually any context, and the speaker has just created a dichotomy that truly does not have to exist.

Yet we do this. We speak like this daily.

“Why are they so much different than us?” “Why are they taking what belongs to us”?

And when we consider our neighborhoods, our villages and cities, we pit “us” vs. “them,” and we create the phenomenon called NIMBY. Not In My Back Yard.

Let’s be honest. When we say “Why do they have to live here with us?” that is exactly what we are saying.  We are saying that “they” don’t belong. But we do. Do we stop and think what gives us the right to make this determination? Do we stop to consider who has helped each of us along the way? Do we consider that at any moment “us” can become “them”? In fact, each of one of us is a “they” to someone else.

No. We don’t consider those questions. We move forward. We close our eyes to our neighbors who have come on hard times. We close our eyes as we walk in Kingston, focusing on the new shiny renovated spaces, the blue sky, the historic district. We close our eyes to our community. We miss the beauty that can be found in need. We miss the opportunity to be more than ourselves.

We, as individual members of our community, cannot do many things on our own. We cannot individually make the opioid drug epidemic go away. We can’t stop people from developing terminal illnesses. We cannot individually hide on our porches, behind our picture windows, behind our fear hoping that someday we will go for a walk in Kingston and all of the people who make us uncomfortable — just because they are them and not us — have been cared for by someone else because we don’t want to do it.

But, a community that decides to do right by everyone who is a member of that community, can collectively do anything.

It starts with admitting to ourselves that we all know right from wrong. We were all taught this at some point. And, even if we weren’t, we know right from wrong because we are human.

We share this community, but we do not get to choose who our community members are. Learn about the community, love the community, enjoy your neighborhoods, parks and restaurants.

But never forget that this community is our community, collectively. Beautiful, ugly, new, old, rich, poor, homeowners and homeless. No matter how hard we try to separate “us” from “them,” it is impossible because it is not reality, nor should it be.

I offer WIMBY. Welcome In My Back Yard. Let’s change the conversation. Let’s open ourselves up to the opportunities that come when we avail ourselves to them.

Let’s be WE.

And most of all, let us do what is right.

Eliza Bozenski, RUPCO Advisory CouncilEliza Bozenski is a member of RUPCO’s Advisory Council since 2017. She also works as Director of Anderson Foundation for Autism, and has been with that organization since 2006.