Saskatchewan city council rejects group home for people with disabilities

WEYBURN, Sask. — A Saskatchewan mayor says no offence was intended when Weyburn city council rejected a care home for people with disabilities this week, in part due to concerns it would drag down property values.

"The intention of our decision at that time ... was not to offend any groups or individuals within our community, but to respect the existing process," Marcel Roy said Wednesday.

"Certain statements were made by councillors during the regular council meeting on Monday that we feel, as council, do not appropriately reflect our values."

The proposed home in The Creeks neighbourhood was to accommodate no more than four adults with mental or physical disabilities, with two to three staff working on rotation around the clock and three off-street parking spots.

But Roy said there was "tremendous pushback" within the neighbourhood, and council had to balance that feedback against the need for more accessible housing.

Coun. Brad Wheeler told Monday's meeting that a lot of people bought homes in The Creeks for more than $700,000, but might have changed plans if they knew a group home was going in.

"It kind of dashes the dreams and hopes of the people that live there currently," he said.

"I know it's not politically correct to say there's a stigma attached to it, but there is ... I feel bad that that's the case, but these people have invested a lot of money into their dream homes, their retirement homes and to have the provincial government come in and pick a lot directly across from them, I don't think that was the best choice."

Late Wednesday afternoon, Wheeler issued a written apology for his remarks and the hurt they have caused. He asked for forgiveness.

"As an elected representative for this community, I failed miserably at relaying a message on behalf of the residents of the Creeks and for that I apologize to my neighbours," he wrote.

"After listening to the statements I made on Monday, I recognize why there are people upset with me, and rightly so. The statements I made are not the sentiments of the residents in the Creeks development, nor do they reflect mine. I spoke against my better judgement and sincerely wish I hadn't.

"I am truly sorry for the comments I made."

Saskatchewan Social Services Minister Paul Merriman said he was disappointed at what happened.

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

Merriman said it would be a last resort for the province to overrule the city's decision.

"I would want to sit down and communicate with them first. I don't want to get heavy-handed on this."

Former premier Brad Wall said the decision by Weyburn city council must 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," Wall wrote in a post on Twitter.

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

Roy said the city would work with the Weyburn Group Home Society and province to look at other locations for the home.

Colin Folk, the society's executive director, said he didn't wish to comment on Wheeler's remarks, as he didn't hear them first-hand.

He said there are 11 people on the wait list to get into such a group home and about double that on the "emerging needs" list, which refers to youths who will need a supportive place to live as adults once they finish school.

"This would be a home for adults to have equal rights, equal opportunity and equal inclusion in our community ... and just opportunity to live the best life possible."

The development manager of The Creeks said it supports the care home.

"We feel this project perfectly complements the neighbourhood and allows all individuals within the care home to be part of a safe and growing community," Doug Rogers, president of Terra Developments Inc., said in a release.

— By Lauren Krugel in Calgary, with files from Stephanie Taylor in Regina

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