On any given day, a visit to an office of Gulfcoast Legal Services would find several people waiting to be seen by one of our advocates. People come for help — whether it's foreclosure, Social Security disability, immigration or to get protection from domestic violence. A large number of our clients are 60 and older.
Gulfcoast focuses its services on life-altering assistance. A woman has been victimized for years by domestic violence; Gulfcoast steps in and files an injunction preventing further abuse. A homeless man, a Vietnam War veteran, and has posttraumatic stress disorder and physical problems that come from living outside; GLS advocates for his disability and he is able to get monthly assistance, an apartment and no longer has to live without a home. An immigrant child has been abandoned by her parents; GLS attorneys are able to obtain lawful, permanent residence for her under state and federal law, changing her life.
Over the course of 35 years we have ridden the tides of funding and reacted to their ebbs and flows. Still, our main purpose of providing excellent legal services that changes lives remains the same.
We are moving forward in the community, making relations with new organizations and providing services that were not provided in the past such as citizenship, help to Iraq war veterans and the like.
Staff members can be found at outreach sites such as the Long Center in Clearwater, the library in Pinellas Park, at St. Petersburg Boley Safe Haven, St. Vincent de Paul soup kitchen, Daystar, the Hispanic Outreach Center in Clearwater, and the Beth El Mission in Ruskin. We work together with our partners, Bay Area Legal Services, the Community Law Program and Legal Aid of Manasota, to provide a web of services to help low-income people — with clinics, centralized telephonic intake and direct representation. It's a full-press team effort to provide as much help as we can. Still, it's not enough. Less than 20 percent of people's legal needs are being met.
The true story at Gulfcoast is the struggle that low-income clients have to find justice. We are proud of our work and the work of our staff in doing their part to changes lives.
John Dubrule, interim executive director, Gulfcoast Legal Services, St. Pete Beach
Florida's next drug problem: heroin May 21, editorial
Follow Switzerland's lead
Since much heroin is by taken by injection, we also will likely see increases in hepatitis C and HIV infection. In the mid 1990s, these diseases drove the Swiss to try something radical, and it worked. The Swiss now offer treatment-on-demand. Of an estimated 22,000 to 24,000 addicts, 16,500 are in treatment, primarily with methadone maintenance at conventional clinics. The Swiss treat about 1,300 hard-core addicts with maintenance doses of heroin in 23 special clinics operating in cities and two prisons.
The Swiss are seeing lower rates of crime, death and disease. Most important, the age of hard-core addicts is climbing, indicating that fewer young people are becoming addicted. The program has been adopted by Germany, Belgium and Denmark. The Times suggests allowing EMTs to carry and administer naloxone to prevent overdose deaths, and greater treatment options for addicts instead of simply punishment and incarceration. Yes, but also look beyond the United States for solutions.
John G. Chase, Palm Harbor
Quick work needed to fix VA mess May 20, editorial
Mental health assistance
As the scandals mount at VA hospitals, citizens begin to question the services veterans get for posttraumatic stress and other disorders once they are in the system. To provide for increased treatment needs, the VA has employed additional mental health professionals from the community. In addition, the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center and the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Pinellas County, joined forces over five years ago to enhance the relationship between civilian and military communities.
NAMI support and education programs are regularly held on-site at VA facilities and in the community for veterans and their families. Attendance and participation at NAMI meetings help to hasten their adjustment back to civilian life and the community.
The value of the dynamics of a support group cannot be overstated. Worried mothers, spouses and the vets themselves can voice their thoughts to understanding and knowledgeable participants and experienced facilitators. Those coping with PTSD and other mental illnesses benefit through these interactions.
May, Mental Health Month, is drawing to a close as Memorial Day draws near. Regardless of the time or day of the month, the services needed, offered and provided to those who served us should never end.
Donald Turnbaugh, Palm Harbor
Warnings went unheeded
In 2010, I contacted President Barack Obama twice about the negative impact of the federal hiring freeze on returning war veterans requiring medical attention at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals. In both instances, I suggested that an exception to the hiring freeze be made for professional medical staff of VA hospitals. The presidential office replied with letters listing achievements of the administration, but there was no reference to the issue I was addressing: inadequate medical staff to care for our veterans returning home from war zones.
In July 2012, I submitted a letter about the medical staff shortage to my representatives and senators. I received one reply, but it did not address the problem caused by the hiring freeze.
Since submitting these letters, the situation has progressed to a crisis. Many veterans are unable to obtain specialty consults because some VA hospitals have no specialists in certain areas. Moreover, the patient load of primary care physicians in VA hospitals is so high that patients are allocated very brief time slots with their physicians.
In addition, primary care physicians are now required to fill out additional paperwork that must be completed for each patient before the end of each visit. This paperwork further compromises the length of time that the physician can devote to the already abbreviated appointment time.
Florence Antoine, Tampa
Governor is right: We should slow down May 21, Sue Carlton column
Finding a safe driving speed
The Interstate Highway System was designed for 70 mph when initiated by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1955. Surely our vehicles today offer greater safety than those of 60 years ago, which did not have seat belts, antilock disc brakes, radial speed-rated tires, air bags, rollover protection, computer stabilization, crush zones, etc., so as to allow a mere 5 mph increase and still prove safer.
"Speed" doesn't kill. As the adage states, when you jump off a 40-story building it's not the fall that kills you but the sudden stop. "Speeding," regardless of the limit, creates the danger. Surveys have proven the safest driving speed is that at which 85 percent of the traffic is moving. In fact, Michigan has a law that requires a speed limit change if the 85th percentile warrants it.
People who are incompetent or lack common sense will still be involved in accidents, and if you run off the road while texting, hit a deer, hydroplane on wet roads, or run into the back of a semi, the results won't be any different nor will you be any more alive at 70 mph than at 75 mph. The only thing the rejection provides is additional money in the coffers of those communities enforcing a speed limit most of the population does not adhere to.
By the way, governors of 16 other states share my sentiments.
Robert Stark, Land O'Lakes
Crossing guard dies on corner | May 21
The tragic death of Douglas Carey, a crossing guard at the Gulf-to-Bay and Belcher intersection, points up the overdue need for a plan to build overpasses at high-volume intersections to protect crossing guards, children and parents as they walk to and from school.
The need for overpasses was recognized early on with the development of the Pinellas Trail, and a plan was set in place to build overpasses in strategic places with high traffic volumes. The walking bridge that runs parallel to the Courtney Campbell Causeway is another example of providing a safer means for recreation.
If Pinellas County deems it necessary to promote the safety of individuals during recreation, how much more should it be concerned with the safety of children heading to school?
Alyson Gery, Belleair
Board: Expedite wetland permits | May 21
Stop the development
Thank you for this informative article about Swiftmud. It was shocking. Has no one in this state yet learned how valuable the wetlands are? It is a proven fact that wetlands filter water and protect from flooding, but people like Swiftmud chairman Carlos Beruff apparently only see dollar signs.
Swiftmud has messed up Brooker Creek and now wants to take on other areas. We do not need more development; let's fill up existing structures first. I sincerely hope the governing board stops this nonsense before we have no natural environmental protections left.
Lisa Bright, Clearwater