05/18/2014 11:31 EDT | Updated 07/18/2014 05:59 EDT

Doug Ford Is Wrong: Group Homes Thrive In Neighborhoods


For the past two years I have used this space to blog about a wide range of issues in my role as a mental health advocate. Sometimes I've shared deep and personal details about my life and other times I've suggested ways in which we can all advance the mental health agenda in this country.

I haven't been afraid to specifically call out celebrities for furthering mental health stigma; other times I've defended them for being the victim of stigma. And sometimes corporations have been the subject of my blogs. I have a habit of blogging when I'm ticked off and the subject matter of this blog is no exception. This time it's personal; real personal!

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and his brother City Councilor Doug Ford seem to make the news on a daily basis saying something shocking. On occasion these shocking things have made international headlines. Sidebar: I am stunned television newscasts have yet to create their own graphics package and theme music and devote a specific segment to what comes out of the Ford Brother's mouths.

Over the weekend it was reported that Doug Ford wants a community based group home located in a residential neighborhood of west Toronto, to be moved. According to CP24 Ford was OK with the group home moving into the neighborhood and was told it would house "a few kids with autism who wouldn't leave without supervision" but feels mislead after learning some of the residents with allegedly violent tendencies were able to leave the property unsupervised.

According to the Etobicoke Guardian, The Griffin Centre (which operates the group home) says Ford was told exactly what kind of facility would be housed in the neighborhood. Ford alleges emergency personnel have responded to the home multiple times and cars have also been broken into.

Enough of what Ford has to say. I lived in group homes in 'normal neighborhoods' for nine years. Yes, everybody in the neighborhood knew what the house was. I'll also admit at times the fire department, paramedics, and police had to respond to the group home. However, not one bad thing was ever said to me or other residents by the neighbors.

The neighbors were nothing but welcoming to us. Sure, they recognized the challenges we faced and I'm sure some days they were grateful it was us facing those challenges and not them. It is my opinion that the neighborhood recognized they played an essential part of our recovery. In order for us to succeed and thrive we had to learn what it meant living in a very real community.

Mental health centres (otherwise known as psychiatric institutions or hospitals) do have a purpose, but they should not house people over the long term unless ordered by a court or if agreed to by a team of mental health professionals. This should only happen in the rarest of circumstances.

It is my opinion that if a resident of a group home in a neighborhood is such a disturbance and cannot thrive in such an environment, they will be relocated and not necessarily to another neighborhood. It may be to a hospital or even into the suburbs where neighborhoods are less condensed.

Ford is alleging cars are being broken into. I don't know if this is true or not but the allegations alone suggest Ford believes people with mental illness to be violent.

There are concerns by Ford along with residents that the group home would drive down property values. There is no evidence to suggest this is true. Any neighborhood I've ever lived in, including downtown Toronto, hasn't seen an influx of homes put up for sale as a result of the group home moving in, nor have residents complained of their properties losing value.

Ford's brother Rob is supposedly in rehab right now. I'm willing to bet Doug would be beyond angry if Rob was in a residential rehab facility and the neighborhood tried to force him out. What happens if one of Doug's children or niece or nephew lived in a group home? Would he propose institutionalizing them in a hospital because they weren't fit to live amongst everybody else? Yet, apparently it's okay for Doug to want a children's mental health facility that he has no relation to, to relocate. Where would this group home go? To another neighborhood and become somebody else's problem?

People with mental illness are not violent as Doug Ford suggests. They are deserving of being given the opportunity to live in the community like everybody else. There is no denying there will be the odd disturbance. However, I hope the neighbors give The Griffin Centre a chance. I am hopeful within a matter of time they'll see the group home makes the neighborhood and community a more diverse and richer place to live in.


Doug Ford Means Business