Social Services Minister Paul Merriman says he is “extremely disappointed” in Weyburn city council’s decision to not approve a group home for four adults with mental and physical disabilities.
The Saskatchewan Housing Authority had the application for the home before council on March 11 for a discretionary use permit in The Creeks subdivision.
“This particular lot, it just doesn’t fit. It kind of dashes the dreams and hopes of the people that live there currently,” councillor Brad Wheeler said Monday.
“It will probably impede the development, that immediate area going forward. I know it’s not politically correct to say there’s a stigma attached to them, but there is. You have to be honest with yourself. I feel bad that’s the case, but these people have invested a lot of money into their dream homes, their retirement homes.”
Wheeler lives in The Creeks and said he talked to many of the subdivisions residents, who raised concerns about changing care levels and increased traffic brought on by busing. He noted the subdivision is about three kilometres from Weyburn’s downtown.
Wheeler, Weyburn Mayor Marcel Roy and councillor’s Jeff Chessall and Winston Bailey voted against the development. Councillor Dick Michel attempted to abstain from the vote, but that was against the rules.
“I am extremely disappointed. I’m very disappointed in this as the minister, but also on a personal level,” Social Services Minister Paul Merriman said.
Letters were also submitted to council by residents in the new development citing concerns over safety, the character of the neighbourhood and depreciating home values.
“We are about the inclusion of everybody, it’s just that we as council, our part in this, is we followed what the [residents] said,” Weyburn Mayor Marcel Roy said. “Part of the process is that we send out notices to all the residents within a 75 meter radius and we had tremendous push back within the neighbourhood.”
It’s since sparked outrage in the community with protesters gathering outside The Creeks neighbourhood Wednesday afternoon.
“I figured in 2019, that people would be more up to date on knowing about disabilities,” residential manager Niki Woycik with Weyburn Group Homes Society said. “It definitely shows that we as an agency would like to reach out to as many people as we can to teach them about all the varying disabilities we do have in our community and we would love for them to see the love and compassion that they all have.”
The Saskatchewan Housing Authority, who brought the application to Weyburn’s council, falls under the social services ministry.
Merriman said he plans on reaching out to the families affected by the decision, Weyburn’s mayor and council.
“I think we have to sit down and talk with the families and see what the options are. If Weyburn doesn’t feel comfortable with this decision with Sask. Housing, I think we’ll have to sit down with the families and try to find some other options,” Merriman said.
In the 2011 election, then Premier Brad Wall talked about wanting to make Saskatchewan “the very best place in Canada to live for those with disabilities”.
When Merriman was asked about the province stepping in on this council decision, Merriman said he wanted to talk with the elected officials first.
“I would see [intervention] as a last resort. I would want to sit down and communicate with the mayor first. I don’t want to get heavy-handed on this,” Merriman said.
“I want to be able to have the conversation and hear their concerns. All I’ve heard right now is through the media, so I’d like to be able to hear their concerns face-to-face and be able to discuss their concerns and what is it that’s bothering them about the placement of this.”
Merriman described the council’s move as unprecedented, which is why he wants to speak face-to-face with all involved before stepping further into the situation.
When asked what would happen if council sticks with their decision, Merriman said the social services ministry would have to work with affected families and find another option.
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