Approximately 140 concerned citizens, Rainier School employees and politicians huddled into a packed Buckley Multi-Purpose Center Thursday night to show their support for a healthy Rainier School future.
Rallying the crowd were 31st District state Reps. Christopher Hurst and Dan Roach.
While Hurst and Roach advocate for all five of Washington’s residential habilitation centers, currently they have the best interest of Rainier School in mind. Thursday’s meeting was in response to a state study recommending closure of the 80-year-old facility for the developmentally disabled in Buckley.
“Maybe some of you have heard from top government officials that this is being done to save money in these tough economic times and that such budget cuts as these are absolutely necessary to realize a balanced budget in this state for 2010,” Hurst said.
“However, nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “The downturn in the economy, which admittedly is the worst I’ve observed in my lifetime, is simply being used as a vehicle by certain individuals in Olympia to carry out an agenda that they have had high on their list of priorities for years. That of course being, to shut down the RHC’s in this state permanently.”
Hurst said the majority of the people who are going to be deciding the fate of these RHCs have never visited one and consequently have no concept of the innovative developments occuring.
“Additionally, they seem to feel in their enlightened state of mind, that it would be perfectly alright to shut these facilities down and have the developmentally disabled former residents of these RHC’s blend seamlessly into the mainstream of society,” Hurst said. “We can’t let this happen and we won’t let this happen, because the horrifying ramifications of allowing this to occur would be absolutely disasterous.”
Roach echoed Hurst’s sentiments but added that there is no way that the state will realize any reduction in the budget by going through with the planned closures, but instead will pay out $1.6 million a year for the next decade if it is their desire to phase out these RHCs.
“Don’t just sit there and think to yourselves, ‘Oh how horrible, the state can’t possibly be thinking of going through with this atrocity.’ Don’t rely on someone else to act on this matter,” Roach said. “Take the initiative and write letters to your governor and congressmen. I guarantee you that when they start getting tens of thousands of e-mails, voice mails and phone calls they will no longer be able to ignore this situation.”
The next scheduled speaker on the hour-long docket was Buckley Mayor Pat Johnson, a longtime champion of the Buckley facility.
“This Rainier community is worth fighting for, because where else are these vulnerable people going to get the treatment and individual attention they need?” Johnson asked. “These is no other place that is suited for their needs. We are going to have to knock on every door in Olympia and we may have a few slammed in our faces, but we can’t just give up on this resource and the dependent population of folks in this facility.”
Johnson also asked how the state will replace the 1,000-plus jobs that would be lost with Rainier School’s demise.
A few of the addresses that Roach and Hurst are recommending people send letters to are:
• Gov. Chris Gregoire, P.O. Box 40002, Olympia, 98504-0002
• House Speaker Frank Chopp, P.O. Box 40600, Olympia, 98504-0600
• Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, P.O. Box 40403, Olympia, WA 98504-0403.