Napanee group home owners file human rights complaint

TheStar.com – news/canada
7 August 2012.   Raveena Aulakh

Kendra Henley’s retirement dream was to start a group home in Napanee.

And that’s exactly what the former nurse and her husband, Brian, did in 2010. They bought a pretty house, did some renovations and soon had seven clients — men and women with developmental disabilities. The couple looked after them, sometimes hiring outside help.

That’s how the Henleys thought they would spend rest of their lives.

It wasn’t to be.

The Henleys say first their neighbours made their lives — and their clients’ — tough, taunting them and calling them names.

Then, after a contentious public meeting in October 2011, Kendra says the council refused to give them a “zoning compliance letter,” effectively deeming the group home illegal.

Now, after months of hoping for some solution that will let them stay, the couple and three of their clients have filed human rights applications against the Town of Napanee, claiming discrimination.

“We didn’t want it to come to this . . . we hoped things would get better but they haven’t,” Kendra told the Star.

Mayor Gordon Schermerhorn said he had no comment and the chief administrative officer, Raymond Callery, did not respond to an interview request.

Jo-Ann Seamon, of the Human Rights Tribunal by the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, called the case “heart-wrenching.”

She said she found it hard to believe there were “people who are ‘scared’ of people with developmental disabilities.”

“It has been very emotional for everyone involved,” said Seamon.

When the group home was started — named Abbey Dawn after Avril Lavigne who grew up in the neighbourhood — Kendra said it seemed like the perfect setting. It was a big house on a quiet street, had a huge backyard and a sideyard, was close to a park and amenities.

The clients are all on disability.

“We checked the zoning bylaws with the town and we were good,” said Kendra. When they first opened, they were allowed to register and were approved, she said.

But within weeks, it became clear some neighbours didn’t want them around.

Kendra said neighbours started yelling at the clients, saying “get out of here you f—— retards” and “go away.” She said they also made unjustified police calls and even photographed residents as they tried to enjoy the garden.

Soon, residents were uncomfortable venturing out, she said. Kendra and her husband noticed a marked decline in some residents’ health as they became distressed by the neighbours’ taunts.

Council minutes from an Oct. 11, 2011, meeting reveal that Schermerhorn “agreed that if he was living in the area he would be upset, too, and that it was the wrong spot for a group home.”

Kendra said she was shocked when she heard that. The seven clients are patient, kind and gentle, she said. “They are low-key. They keep to themselves . . . they are not threatening.”

She has tried to talk to neighbours but it hasn’t helped.

“We don’t know what to do,” said Kendra, adding she fears they could be shut down any day.

“These people were cared for their parents . . . now their parents are dead,” she said. “They have nowhere to go.”

< http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/1238592–napanee-group-home-owners-file-human-rights-complaint >

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