Not in my backyard


Imagine you’re a home owner, living in a mixed-income suburb. You find out that a house down the street has recently been purchased for use as a group home for youth with complex issues. How do you react? Do you worry about the safety of your own children? Or maybe the value of your property? Do you welcome the youth to your community and try to help them feel at home in their new environment?

This isn’t a hypothetical situation. A few months ago, Griffin Centre, a Toronto-area mental health agency, purchased a house in Etobicoke to use as a group home. Four young people moved into the home, and there have a been a few incidents where Emergency Services have been contacted. Now, this doesn’t surprise me: teens with mental health issues who are currently unable to live with family are likely going to need some time to adjust to a new environment. Some of the youth in the house are apparently autistic, and all also have developmental disabilities. Autistic people generally aren’t known for navigating transitions easily, so it doesn’t seem unusual that police cars and ambulances would make regular appearances for the first while.

It’s too much, though, for the residents of the surrounding community. It’s not the kids that are a problem, it’s where they are. They should be on a farm – somewhere rural, maybe. “Mental people” don’t belong in residential communities, after all. How do we explain these unpredictable, imperfect people to our totally normal children? How do we keep our innocent babies safe from the knowledge that some people aren’t the same as they are?

“This is a community for people, not for that.”

Not for that.

That.

Not people.

That.

If it were just random nameless community members, it would be bad enough. But Toronto councillor Doug Ford had to weigh in as well.

“You can’t destroy a community like this. People have worked 30 years for their home … My heart goes out to kids with autism. But no one told me they’d be leaving the house. If it comes done to it, I’ll buy the house myself and resell it.”

No one told me they’d be leaving the house.

One more person, this one in a position of power, dehumanizing disabled youth.

Let me tell you something: it is entirely possible that if my kids were raised by different parents that one or both of them may have been in a situation where a residential home might have been needed for a while. Hell, I’ll be honest: I have no idea if they’ll make it to adulthood without needing a residential option of some sort – none of us know this.

And that’s kind of the point, really. Not one parent in that community has a guarantee that their delicate snowflakes won’t be the cause of several police car or EMS visits to their homes. Not one of them has a guarantee that their family members won’t end up in a group home or residential rehab or a correctional facility. Many of those community members will find out over the next decade that one or more of their own kids has autism, and will have to make some hard choices about the future.

Is anyone going to call a town meeting to force these families out of the community? I doubt it. These hardworking homeowners who have experienced hard times will be given a pass. Their neighbours will show compassion, show up with casseroles, whisper their own concerns about their family members. They will show empathy, and will see them as people.

Just as they should for all of their neighbours.

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