Council rejection of Weyburn disability home spurs outrage, waitlist concerns

As protesters gathered Wednesday in the neighbourhood where a disability group home was rejected by Weyburn, Sask., city council, relatives of the residents who would have lived there were coming terms with their frustration and disappointment.

'We can see I'm not going to be here forever and that young man needs care,' says grandparent

A young boy sends a message at a protest in The Creeks neighbourhood of Weyburn on Wednesday. Councillors in that city rejected a proposal to build a group home for people with disabilities in the newer neighbourhood, citing safety and property price concerns. (Matt Howard/CBC News)

As protesters gathered Wednesday in the neighbourhood where a disability group home was rejected by city council in Weyburn, Sask., relatives of the residents who would have lived there were coming to terms with their frustration and disappointment.

Four people with mental and physical disabilities were slated to move into the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation home in a new subdivision called The Creeks.

City councillors voted down the proposal on Monday, citing traffic and safety concerns, "stigma" and a potential hit to property prices in a neighbourhood where some homes have a price tag in the millions.

"We've been waiting for many years for the transition to take place because there has been no room for individuals and there's a waiting list of individuals who need to go in here," said Rick Wanner, whose grandson Josh was supposed to have a place in the new home.

On Wednesday, protesters hit the streets of the neighbourhood carrying signs with slogans such as "cultivate inclusion" and "end stigma."

Weyburn grandfather and caregiver Rick Wanner hopes a solution can be found to get his grandson Josh into a group home. He was supposed to have a spot in a proposed new home in The Creeks neighbourhood that was rejected by council this week. (Matt Howard/CBC News)

One young boy carried his own sign bearing the words: "I am not dangerous."

For family members like Wanner, the decision only adds more uncertainty to a years-long wait to give their loved one a better living situation.

He said the organization that would have run the group home, Weyburn Group Home Society, has already done "wonders" for his grandson.

Wanner has been a caregiver for Josh, who lives in his home, for two years.

'Josh is not a dangerous person'

He said he does not understand the council members' reasoning for voting against the home, saying any new home would have brought at least one car into the neighbourhood.

Wanner is also frustrated that councillors and residents raised concerns about safety.

Supporters of plans to build a disability group care home gathered to protest in The Creeks neighbourhood in Weyburn on Wednesday. (Matt Howard/CBC News)

"I understand there's a thought of danger. Well, from my standpoint, Josh is not a dangerous person by any stretch of the imagination," said Wanner.

"He'll be transported, he will have a worker with him at all times. So again, I have a problem with the idea that they would consider my grandson as a dangerous person because he is not."

Council members in the city  who voted against the home responded to public backlash on Wednesday afternoon.

Councillor apologies, regrets

Coun. Brad Wheeler, who spoke about the existence of "stigma" and a potential hit to property prices built as "dream" homes, issued an apology.

Another councillor, Jeff Chessall, said he regretted not voting for a motion by Coun. Dick Michel to delay the decision until they had more information.

Mayor Marcel Roy said the council was simply respecting the legal process and taking on board feedback from concerned residents who opposed the development.

Coun. Winston Bailey declined to comment, saying he would address the concerns later in the week.

Social Services Minister Paul Merriman told reporters at the legislature he is "very disappointed" and plans to talk to families and contact the mayor.

I'm not going to be here forever and that young man needs care.- Rick Wanner , grandfather of young man on waitlist for group home

"This is not the Saskatchewan I know. This is not how communities openly welcome people into their communities, no matter what their ability is," said Merriman.

In 2013, when the then Crawford House home for people with intellectual disabilities opened in Swift Current, then premier Brad Wall said his government was going to "make Saskatchewan the best place to live for people with disabilities."

Questioned about his government's commitment to improving quality of life for people with disabilities, Merriman maintained his government is sending a strong message.  

"I am extremely disappointed as the minister but also on a personal level I'm very disappointed that [Weyburn councillors] took this action," said Merriman.

"But I want to be able to give them the opportunity to be able to explain why they chose this as we have had other group homes placed in the Weyburn area."

He said it is not his job to change council's mind, but he wants to discuss their reasoning and the repercussions of their decision.

Wall wrote on social media that he believes the decision should be changed.

"Saskatchewan has worked hard to provide dignity, care and quality of life through more group home spaces to our most vulnerable fellow citizens," said Wall in a tweet published Wednesday.

"In turn, they bring dignity and care to any neighbourhood."  

Weyburn's mayor has said city councillors are planning to meet with the group home society and the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation.

In the meantime, Wanner is hopeful another solution can be found.

"We can see I'm not going to be here forever and that young man needs care and will always need care so what better place to have him than in a place where he's just handled with kid gloves," said Wanner.

"He's really, really looked after well, can't ask for more than that.

"It takes a great load off of us as well because we now know that he'll be well looked after when we're not able to do it anymore, or we don't have to do it anymore."

With files from Cory Coleman

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