Group home for people with intellectual disabilities approved in Manitoba's Stonewall
Neighbours expressed concerns about safety and property values near assisted-living group home
A family is permitted to rent their home to a group that helps people with intellectual disabilities following a council meeting that took place on Wednesday night in Stonewall, Man.
The meeting was a response to a fight that had been brewing in the town.
Jacquie Derewianchuk and her husband Mark Shurek wanted to rent their Rossmere Crescent home to Assisted Community Living Interlake (ACL).
ACL's plan was to then move three adult men with intellectual disabilities and one full-time support worker into the home, but the plan came up against local opposition.
"It shouldn't matter. People can live where they want to. It doesn't matter their position in the community, their abilities or disabilities," Derewianchuk said.
Dozens of people showed up for the vote, filling the council hall and spilling onto the steps outside.
"There was some guy in the back of the room and [he] said, 'Well, I have the keys from the United Church,' … So, I broke up the meeting and the whole crowd walked to the church," said Stonewall Mayor Lockie McLean.
There, the town heard those in favour of the living arrangement and those against it.
"[The vote] was heartwarming, it was unanimous. In the future, when this type of situation comes up, our council will be looking at changing our bylaw because people shouldn't have to ask permission to live in a home regardless of their assisted living …" McLean said.
The issue has been up in the air for over a month, and Derewianchuk wasn't prepared for the backlash she heard at a meeting on Dec. 2.
According to town council minutes, 12 people expressed concerns about having an ACL home in their neighbourhood.
"I was really surprised," Derewianchuk said. "I thought we'd be walking into a quiet meeting with the councillors and a few people, but the place was packed. I could tell that the mood in the room was not very positive. The sense of the people, how they were crowded around and talking, I knew they weren't there to wish us well."
According to minutes, concerns included safety for local children and future property value. Though there were supporters there, Derewianchuk said she grew more upset as she listened to locals voice their opinions.
"I heard that people felt if ACL moved into the neighbourhood, their kids would be at risk, there would be criminal activities, they'd offend people that lived there, that there'd be a danger to the neighbourhood," she said. Other people apparently said the rental would "open up avenues for halfway houses," according to Derewianchuk.
"Just because there would be a group home in our home does not mean that two houses down would turn into some place to rehabilitate major offenders," she said.
'We are not Grinches'
After the town's newspaper reported on the meeting, tons of support for Derewianchuk, ACL Interlake and the men who might live there poured in.
Frances Lippoway and her husband David live in the area. The two opposed the rezone at the Dec. 2 meeting and wrote another letter after the fact.
In the letter, Lippoway said they discussed the matter with a realtor. If it goes through, Lippoway was told their property would be harder to sell and eventually decrease in value. She also noted a concern with privacy, increased traffic and noise.
The Lippoways are close to retiring and wrote they're only thinking about the future of their home and family.
"We are not "Grinches" as we have been described by the media. Nor are we hiding behind our discrimination of the applicant," she wrote. "We have every right to be concerned about this change, as it could potentially affect our children and grandchildren's legacy."
A single family home
Tara Smith is the executive director of ACL Interlake. She thinks most of the fear and concern stem from a misinformed idea of what the association does. ACL Interlake has been in Stonewall for 50 years as of 2016, but Smith said she doesn't think everyone knows the details.
"We're a non-profit organization that supports people who live with intellectual disabilities," she said. "I think when we can get that word out and people know who we are and can meet us, we can become part of the community. They'll understand who we are and want to be our neighbours."
Smith was hopeful the men could move in before the meeting on Wednesday night, but she said laws will have to change to remove all barriers.
"The long-term goal is they look at updating the current bylaw and changing it so that we don't have to go through this process every time we need a home," said Smith. "We are growing and there are lots of people who are looking for houses."
The current bylaw states the property must be updated to a "residential care facility." But Smith wants a more welcoming title.
"Because we're looking at three people, it would be nice if that's just a single family home," she said. "Because that's what we are. We're a family moving into a space with some support."
As for Derewianchuk, she said before the meeting on Wednesday night that she was expecting the matter to be resolved. There are five other ACL Interlake homes in Stonewall, and she didn't think a sixth would be an issue.
"There's so much support, the precedent has been set with the other homes in Stonewall, there's absolutely no problem," she said. "I don't understand why it would turn out any different from a happy story."