Residents who live near an Etobicoke home for developmentally disabled youth are applauding Councillor Doug Ford for taking up their cause by suggesting the facility be moved off their street. They say they resent being painted as mean-spirited, and that the issue has been distorted.
Opposition to the home sparked a sustained public backlash online in the days after a public meeting Thursday, with critics accusing Mr. Ford and those who live in the area of NIMBYism.
Criticism continued to pour in Sunday, with mayoral candidate John Tory calling Mr. Ford's attitude "deeply regrettable and from another age." Mr. Ford was pushing back, dismissing critics as hypocrites who wouldn't want the home in their own neighbourhood.
"I don't know how many middle-class communities, or any communities, want that bang-centre in the middle of their community," the councillor said in a phone interview Sunday. "It's not the fault of the youth that's in there, it's the system's fault. We need to find a proper location that they have the freedom to do what they do and the help that they need."
Mr. Ford acknowledges that "legally, they can be there," but he is arguing for a bigger facility in a less residential area.
When interviewed Sunday on Jeffcoat Drive, a quiet street of mostly postwar bungalows with well-tended yards near Rexdale and Kipling, residents said the issue has been misconstrued as one of intolerance. They voiced sympathy for the youth, but say there have been safety and convenience issues since the home operated by Griffin Centre opened two months ago.
A number of residents, most of whom did not want to be identified, say some in the area no longer feel safe. They also worry about property values and point to problems such as people connected to the facility parking cars in such a way as sometimes to block garbage pick-up. And they say that the negative reaction prompted by the youth at the home is making the neighbourhood bad for them as well. Everyone would be better off, residents argue, if the home was moved.
The home can house up to five youth and the three currently there would traditionally have been cared for at Thistletown Regional Centre for Children and Adolescents, which was located a few blocks away. That facility closed for good this year, part of a decades-long trend toward deinstitutionalization, with its services now provided in the community by places such as the Griffin Centre home on Jeffcoat.
Residents on Jeffcoat allege that only those living closest to the home received any notice it would begin operation. They say what communication they did get didn't paint the full picture.
Residents say the people at the home have often been in the street unsupervised. They say the police are called as often as every second or third night, sometimes taking someone away in handcuffs, and that there have been more break-ins.
In an e-mail exchange Sunday, a Griffin Centre staff member disputed the frequency of police calls and said there had never been any assurance that residents would not be allowed outside without supervision.
"We have been overwhelmed with messages of support," wrote Catia Valenti Mishaiel director of fundraising and development. "Griffin Centre is disappointed in Mr. Ford's comments. We had several contacts with Mr. Ford prior to opening the residence and prior to the community meeting. We are shocked by his negative comments and lack of support."
Also speaking out this weekend was former politician Bob Rae, who tweeted that Mr. Ford "should be ashamed of himself." It was Mr. Rae's provincial government that, two decades ago, proposed closing Thistletown Regional Centre. The issue stalled and was dropped by the subsequent government in the face of complaints from the parents of those in care.
The current Liberal government revived the plan and announced the closing of Thistletown two years ago.
"We know that by moving mental health services into the community, delivered by local community agencies closer to home, we can be more responsive to the needs of kids and their families, providing them with services when and where they need them," Eric Hoskins, then minister of children and youth service, said in a statement at the time.