There is no other group of adult citizens in this country, not convicted of violating criminal laws, who are forced to fight for their right to live in the community, except disabled people.
Council will vote tomorrow (July 25, 2017), at 2:00 pm on whether to approve the Pearson Dogwood Rezoning Application.
I am going to go ahead and call the result now. The Council is going to approve it and that means in 2017 the City of Vancouver will approve the building of group homes for disabled people in 2022.
They will no doubt justify this approval on the grounds that it was what the current residents of Pearson Dogwood want. On the surface this sounds like a solid reason for doing so. I disagree.
People have the legal right to hold opinions but government does not have legal obligation to act on them.
Elected officials can consider opinions but they must respect, adhere to, and uphold rights.
The argument that is likely going to be made by members of council is that the residents were given the option to live in the community and decided not to.
Thus, in effect, they are exercising their right to pick a different kind of living situation and the government is just respecting their wishes to do so.
But, first of all, the decision about what to build is going to impact more than just the current residents. It will affect other current and future disabled citizens of Vancouver. Thus the opinions of these residents should not govern public decision-making and certainly should not over-ride best practice. Group homes are not best practice.
Secondly, not all choices deserve or receive public resources or become basis for granting increased density.
Thirdly, there is the question as to how informed that choice is. Was every effort made to address the specific concerns of individual residents and demonstrate to their satisfaction that there would be no loss of safety or service when they moved into the community?
Fourth, according to Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, there must be a range of options available. Those range of options do not currently exist in Vancouver. I was specifically and clearly told that should I become ‘more disabled’ I would have to move into an institution – contrary to Article 19 of the Convention to which Canada is a signatory. So in effect, the Council is deciding some choices matter more than others.
We need adapted accessible apartments for low-income disabled people, now and in the future – in the community with attendant care available for those who need it – 24 hours a day/7 days a week.
There is a finite supply of housing. By building new group homes, the City of Vancouver councilors are in effect imposing this choice on disabled people who want to, and have a right to, live in the community.
And finally, the question, uncomfortable, though it may be, has to be asked – do the current residents who have lived years and years of their lives in an institution and thus have likely developed the well-documented effects that result from prolonged institutionalization, have the right to impose their opinions, on future generations of disabled people.
Elected representatives are expected to ensure public policy meets or exceeds best practice regardless of public opinion.
This is the area where I have many questions and concerns.
I did not know about this development until about a week ago. I know there was an extensive community engagement process that went into developing this proposal.
However, a community engagement process is the wrong process and would almost certainly lead to the results it did.
Moving people who have spent years and years of their life inside an institution into the community is not like asking people if they would prefer a swimming pool or a tennis court in their local park.
This is a fundamental, significant and life-altering change.
And there are many existing models for doing this effectively.
I also have questions about who led this process. The process for discussing de-institutionalization definitely should not be led by the people who worked in and ran the institution. Nor are City staff or those employed by the developer properly equipped or trained to carry this out.
This is a painstakingly personalized process and it must be led by those who have a comprehensive understanding and commitment to disability rights. Given that one of the representatives who spoke at the public hearing suggested that the a graphic that included haircuts and going to church was proof Pearson was moving to the social model of disability, I highly doubt this was the case.
The social model of disability is not about ensuring people’s care plans include social activities.
The fear the residents feel is real – it is a rational feeling given their situation and that fear needs to be honoured. We do that by demonstrating how those concerns can and will be addressed – specifically and in a detailed way.
But there is a huge difference between respecting people’s fears and allowing those fears to dictate policy.
I also wonder if the residents had the opportunity to meet with other disabled people with similar types of disabilities and needs who are living in the community.
(I recognize that due to the lack of available options for disabled people in Vancouver, we would likely have to pull people in from other cities – which is quite a statement in itself isn’t it?)