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Why Miranda! We Would Never Dream of Being Sarcastic
The Free Press staff wishes to thank you for the write-up in the Undercurrents column in your [October 29] issue.

We are indeed a very small publication covering Palm Beach County -- a "little fella," as you called us. We may even be a "mediocre rag," especially when compared to the very long stories that New Times publishes.

But we agree with you on one point: Our monthly magazine "is kinda cute with those small pages stapled together." Unless, of course, you were being sarcastic.

Miranda Reitz, Assistant Editor
Free Press ("little fella")
Boynton Beach

One Less Client For Victory Living Programs
I recently received a letter from Victory Living Programs (VLP) Director Dennis Des Jardin, warning the friends of VLP that a negative article attempting to undermine "all the good work we do" was appearing in your publication ("The Fear of Living Dangerously," October 22, Paul Belden). My mentally disabled brother had been a long-time resident and client of VLP, and I was curious about the article. The last letter I received from VLP warning of an unfavorable article was about a staff member who had been accused of sexually assaulting a resident.

I was horrified to learn the extent of the violence on the campus. I was further disturbed by Des Jardin's attempts to minimize the incidents. His dismissal of unprosecuted events makes me question whom he is there to serve. His admission of wrongdoing regarding client finances in the name of "the greater good" reminds me of the theories of history's most villainous dictators.

I removed my brother from VLP last year after learning that they had mishandled his finances. They corrected the problem immediately, but I had [had] to initiate the action. My brother also complained that there was always "fighting and yelling." I found the staff unresponsive and often hostile. When he complained about smelling marijuana, I was told [by a staff member] that he was in error before the staff [member] even got off of the phone to investigate. Most complaints were dismissed as fantasies or exaggeration.

I had voiced concern over the mixture of the population: the mentally disabled, the mentally ill, and the chemically dependent. I am a social worker, and I know that this is a volatile mix. Des Jardin assured me that they were not taking in any violent criminals. I was obviously misled. It is very sad because this [had been] an excellent program in the past.

Des Jardin can blame the victims, the families, the system, and even the press for the problems at VLP, but it doesn't change the fact that, while on his watch, under his care, horrific felonious "incidents" are injuring this vulnerable, dependent population. Will it take a death before the Department of Children and Families and VLP are moved to change? To satisfy an overburdened court system's needs, are the mentally disabled to be sacrificed? Why do they continue to be deaf to the screams of the retarded?

Maybe that's the reason. They're retarded. Who really cares?
Lynda Hammond
Fort Lauderdale

One More Employee For Victory Living Programs
I was shocked and appalled at the deliberate misrepresentation of Victory Living Programs (VLP) and Paul Belden's untrue characterization of the agency as a dangerous place to live. Mr. Belden's depiction of VLP is not a product of a factual investigative process. It paints a picture of a reporter deliberately trying to taint the reputation of a nonprofit agency by speaking to a handful of disgruntled ex-employees and clients.

Being the grant writer for VLP for the past five years, I am acutely aware of the need for funding to meet the needs of the physically aggressive mentally handicapped client. At VLP the agency will not refuse services to a client because [he or she is] violent. These individuals deserve the same opportunity to have access to services that will enable them to become self-sufficient and productive members of the Broward County community.

It is true that physically aggressive clients do pose a threat to the more docile individuals in any residential program. However, Mr. Belden does not offer a solution to where the dollars will come from to provide separate facilities, staff, and support services to these individuals. Is he going to pay for it? Why didn't Mr. Belden do his homework and find out why there are no dollars available to provide these kinds of services? The answer is that there is a severe shortage of funds to provide social services to everyone these days, whether they be for the mentally handicapped, substance abusers, or the homeless.

The fact is that Mr. Belden will not print that he reported a deliberate untruth that Victory Living Programs is under threat of "corrective action" by the Developmental Services Department. Trying to intimate that this is the case is sheer fabrication and cannot be tolerated.

Why doesn't Mr. Belden print the right kind of article about VLP -- a factual and honest one? He needs to report the truth, that there is a nonprofit [agency] that needs more dollars to provide the optimum services possible to the mentally handicapped population. Over the past 25 years, VLP has helped thousands of individuals in the community become self-sufficient. We intend to continue to provide services to these individuals, violent or not, high- or low-functioning, rich or poor. The staff and the Board of Directors work very hard to contribute to the needs of these individuals, and we will be here long after Mr. Belden has gone to another newspaper that will tolerate his sensationalist tactics. Mr. or Ms. Editor, you should not!

Beryl Glansberg, Grant Writer
Victory Living Programs

Belden responds: Following is the paragraph of the story that Glansberg says contains a "deliberate untruth":

[DCF Director Clark] Brownell says that, over the last two years, complaints became so numerous that he felt obliged to look into the situation. His conclusion: "I thought [VLP] was perhaps overextended, that perhaps they didn't have enough staff to handle all the projects they'd taken on." He says he has verbally conveyed his concerns to Des Jardin several times and also explained that VLP is at the moment on the "verge of being required to take corrective action."

Asked whether that paragraph were accurate, Brownell says that, while it is true that VLP has been on the verge of being required to take corrective action, "I don't think I had told them that specifically."

Nevertheless, this week a team of DCF monitors has completed a report on VLP. Brownell says he will require VLP to take corrective actions, including the regular submission to DCF of a formalized plan for each VLP resident who exhibits behavioral problems.

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