An open letter to the next community considering the Cambia Hills Project:
Congratulations! Your community has been selected to be the future home of Cambia Hills. Beyond the tremendous opportunity to be part of the solution to our state’s mental health crisis, you will gain 150 jobs, at least $9 million in annual economic impact, a partnership with a skilled management team and a beautiful facility.
I am a member of the Forest Lake City Council. I voted for the zoning amendment that would have allowed the project, a youth mental health care facility, to move to the next stage. Unfortunately, my peers on the council rejected the project despite widespread resident support.
I am proud of my community for evaluating this opportunity in a thorough and respectful manner. We didn’t experience the not-in-my-backyard phenomenon that others before us have faced. I have some advice to share.
Don’t shy from the tough, usually uncomfortable questions.
As your residents wrestle with misconceptions around mental health and consider the project’s impact on their personal lives, give them room to ask all of their questions. All of them.
Will my kids be safe? What will be the impact on our schools? Will this cause undue strain on our public safety resources? Your residents will be afraid to ask these questions, and, unfortunately, if not given a safe space and opportunity to get answers, many won’t move from their “Start With No” positions.
I witnessed doubters becoming supporters, time and time again, when their questions were met with a respectful and patient response: “I hear your concern for [insert root worry here]. Have you considered [facts]?”
The neighborhood literally in the backyard of the proposed Forest Lake Cambia Hills facility moved from a position of solid no to being strong advocates. A great project is going to have great answers to all questions.
After months of consideration, I have no doubt that Cambia Hills is a great project and look forward to another community reaching the same conclusion. Consensus will come when doubts can be respectfully reconciled with facts. Coffee and a comfortable chair will help.
Your community will become the next focus of mental health advocates. They are loud and passionate in their advocacy. They are frustrated from seeing community after community fail to step up to be the partner they desperately seek. They are weary; give them grace. Utilize them as a valuable resource.
Need facts? They will respond with volumes. Show them a transparent, fair process and you will quickly earn their respect. Identify the path to success and they will help in removing every hurdle.
Prepare the coffee, and best wishes. Residents from Forest Lake and across Minnesota are rooting for you.
Mara Bain is a member of the Forest Lake City Council.