Tolerance triumphs in dispute over location of care facility
June 26, 2006
The city's planning committee has come down on the side of tolerance for residential care facilities for brain injured individuals. Their decision was made considerably easier by two powerful citizen presentations.
Locating a care facility in an upscale east mountain neighbourhood has drawn strong opposition from nearby residents who came out in force for last week's planning committee meeting. Five opponents made presentations. They raised concerns ranging from possible deviant behaviour and invasions of private swimming pools, to the lack of transit and the danger of a brain-injured person falling off the nearby edge of the escarpment.
Len Gaik led off with a 15-minute presentation on behalf of several residents. He described the proposed care facility as inadequately staffed and representing a gross over-spending of provincial tax dollars. He also suggested that the operators of the facility, Brain Injury Services Hamilton (BISH), might house "sexually aberrant persons or persons with a criminal background."
"Neighbours of the proposed facility should be under no legal, moral or ethical duty to subject themselves and/or their children to suffering any risk of potential verbal, sexual and/or physical improprieties of the residents of this facility," Gaik declared.
He also cited "increased heavy traffic" associated with the six-patient care facility and said that "the children of neighbours are accustomed to and should be entitled to continue enjoying traffic levels corresponding to the quiet residential quality of the neighbourhood."
Gaik charged the city with changing the character of the surrounding neighbourhood by allowing the inclusion of a residential care facility. He said homeowners paid higher prices to locate there as well as higher taxes and "relied on a reasonable expectation that their neighbourhoods' inherent integrity would not be altered".
The comments on sexual deviance enraged Sam Merulla who quickly got into a contest with Gaik to see who had the loudest voice and could interrupt the other most often. Merulla worked with disabled individuals before his election to city council.
Gaik's comments also raised the ire of Terry Whitehead, who has an autistic son. Other councillors noted that someone like Ancaster councillor Murray Ferguson who suffered a stroke last December might need such a facility.
But the next four citizen speakers continued to maintain that the facility should not be located in their neighbourhood, arguing that it would endanger both the patients and the surrounding residents, and that it was a business and therefore shouldn't be located in a residentially zoned area.
But what looked like a residents-against-councillors battle changed course as the two-hour debate wore on. Doreen Leaney, also a resident of the area, was the sixth speaker and took a much different approach. Recalling her disabled daughter who had died at fourteen, Leaney suggested she might have been a client at the facility had she survived. "We would have loved for her to be living in such a beautiful neighbourhood . one that we enjoy every day," she said.
"Who knows who else may need such a facility - our parent, our spouse or our child," Leaney went on. "Would we want them to settle for less than we are privileged to enjoy?"
She noted that brain-injured people don't have a choice about their condition. "If circumstances were reversed, would we want to be discriminated against because of age, accident or illness we had no control over?"
Recalling John Donne's dictum that no man is an island, Leaney argued that we depend on each other and need each other. "I challenge each one here to put him or herself in the shoes of someone in these circumstances - because you just might be there someday. Then ask yourself - where would I like to live."
Leaney was followed by a care giver for disabled individuals who echoed her sentiments. "We wouldn't want any less for ourselves," noted Brian Thompson. "Why would anyone want any less for these people who are so much more fragile than the average individual?"
All but one of the committee members voted in favour of allowing the facility. They also unanimously endorsed a motion by Brian McHattie to develop a policy to formally notify neighbourhoods when care facilities are being introduced, and provide mediation to help resolve conflicts.
The only opposition to the facility came from Glanbrook councillor Dave Mitchell who didn't agree with the blanket approval of residential care facilities across the city 'as of right'. He argued that "certain areas of the city" were better suited for them and echoed earlier concerns about patients getting lost.
"I personally believe it's not the right place to be located," Mitchell declared.
The decision only applies to the former city of Hamilton. Ancaster still does not allow any residential care facilities, a situation that staff said won't change until a new comprehensive zoning bylaw is developed and approved in about two years time.