Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Myth of Choosing Your Neighbours

We have three group homes coming before council, with the public hearing piece at this week's meeting. While the opposition so far isn't as orchestrated as the protests against the proposal for Mahon Drive last fall, we've received a few emails outlining the usual fears of allowing such homes into a neighbourhood.

The proposals are for new group homes in three wards - one in Ward Three, one in Ward Five, and one in Ward Six.  One is the same proposal that was made for Mahon Drive - a supervised home for four adolescent girls, all of whom attend school and none of whom has ever been in trouble with the law.  One is for mentally challenged adults.  And one is for seniors.  I'm willing to bet that every person in Prince Albert knows at least one person who would fit in each of those groups, if they don't belong to one themselves, and I'm quite sure that they wouldn't dream of telling those individuals that they're not welcome to live in their neighbourhood. But somehow, putting the phrase group home into the equation makes it objectionable.

The standard argument made is that allowing a group home into a neighbourhood will decrease property values.  While this is said every time, it's really just a red herring - there isn't a single instance of anywhere in the city where a group home has resulted in property values decreasing.  I think that the real, unspoken reason is that people are afraid of people different from them moving in.

Many people live with the illusion that the ideal life is one where you are surrounded by people exactly like you - the ideal demographic of married couples with 2.1 children, who share your values and tastes in everything.  And yet, as soon as you read that, you realized that you know plenty of perfectly nice families that don't fit that demographic, probably including your own family, and that even your nearest and dearest don't necessarily share your values, or your likes and dislikes.  And probably your current neighbours have some habits that you wish they didn't.

Of course, an individual or family can buy a  house without having to clear it with the neighbours.  And while your current neighbours might be just dandy, they could be replaced by a family whose teen-age son is learning how to play the drums, and practises in the garage with the door open, or by a family who likes to have fire-pit parties late into the night, or by a family whose income is derived from dealing drugs, or by members of a motorcycle gang.

I'll admit - I haven't always been thrilled with some of  my neighbours' activities.  And I'm quite sure that there are probably times when they have found some of my family's activities annoying (Guthrie's junior high antics come to  mind).  But I also remember that when I was stranded up on the roof a few years ago, after a wind blew over the ladder, it was a neighbour who came to the rescue, and I'm hoping that another former neighbour still remembers when I called the police when I heard her home being broken into.

Because that's what neighbours do - they lend a hand, or help out in a pinch.  They're not necessarily people that you socialize with, but they say hi over the fence, and keep their eyes open when you're away for the weekend.  And I can't think why group home residents would be any different - if anything, it's an advantage knowing ahead of time what the neighbours will be like.

As members of council, we have to remember one basic fact - group homes exist only because there is a need.  The people who, for whatever reason, need to live in these kinds of homes are city residents with the same rights as the mythical two parent family with 2.1 children.  And we shouldn't let our knowledge of the right thing be swayed yet again by people who think that they have the right to control who their neighbours are.

"You cannot subvert your neighbour's rights without striking a dangerous blow at your own." - Carl Schurz

1 comment:

Estelle said...

I would be very happy to have more group homes in this city, and would be equally happy to have them next to me. I lived next door to two YWCA group homes for the first 11 months I lived in PA, and I had no issues.

I do however see issues every day in my job that wouldn't be as bad if there were safe and appropriate places to live.

On that note, we could use some more shelter, detox and treatment beds.