NAPANEE, Ont. - The owners of a group home in southeastern Ontario that caters to adults with mental disabilities have filed human rights complaints against their town.
Kendra Henley, who runs Abbey Dawn Place in Napanee, Ont., said the filing of the applications to the province's Human Rights Tribunal marks the latest escalation in a dispute which has been simmering since last year.
Henley claimed her licence was revoked after town officials sided with area residents who do not want the group home in their neighbourhood.
"This should not be tolerated in 2012," said Henley, who runs the home with her husband.
"We really need to stop treating people differently because they look a little different than us," she said.
The Town of Napanee's chief administrative officer, Raymond Callery, confirmed to The Canadian Press they have received the complaints, but declined to comment.
Henley, 50, opened the home in 2010 after retiring from a career as a nurse. At the time, she registered her facility and received necessary regulatory approvals from the town.
She said the home is for semi-independent adults with mental disabilities like Down syndrome and schizophrenia.
"It's almost like a foster home for adults," Henley said. "The clients live with our family, they eat with us, we eat the same food, we sleep in the same house, we're always under the same roof."
After a few months of operation, she said, the home's residents started to complain about the way they were being treated by members of the community.
"People were staring at them and they were reluctant to go outside," said Henley. "They were being called names."
At one point, Henley recalled a night last fall when eggs were thrown at her clients while they were out in the yard.
"It got to the point where none of the clients would, and still will not, go out into the front yard, they won't go into the side yard," said Henley. "They're too afraid, they don't want to be watched by the neighbours.
"They've been almost put in seclusion."
Henley pointed out that extensive risk assessments are conducted before clients are admitted into her facility, which is located in a middle-class neighbourhood.
She said neighbours filed complaints about the home's clients, including to the Housing Services Corporation of Ontario, an organization she had planned to seek funding from. However, a spokesman for HSC said they had received no such complaints.
"HSC does not handle resident complaints relating to housing projects nor do we provide funding to group homes," Jeff Herrle said in an email to The Canadian Press.
Henley said the situation escalated to the point where area residents took their grievances to the town council.
At a heated council meeting in October 2011, minutes of the session show the town's mayor sided with residents opposed to the home, saying that the neighbourhood was the wrong spot for a group home. Napanee Mayor Gordon Schermerhorn was not available for comment on Wednesday.
Henley said the town council voted to deny the home a zoning compliance letter, meaning the facility could be shut down.
If that were to happen, many of the group's residents would have to go to hospitals, shelters or could end up being homeless, she said.
A senior counsel with Human Rights Legal Support Centre, who is representing Henley, her husband and three home clients who filed the applications, said the group home has done everything it can to try to comply with the town's regulations but "nothing was good enough."
"We're hoping that the town, with this case being launched ... will see that they can improve inclusiveness in Napanee," said Jo-Ann Seamon.
"The future of our communities is really based on making sure we're inclusive to all members of our community, even if they're quite different from us," she said.
— by Diana Mehta and Will Campbell in Toronto.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version quoted Kendra Henley as saying residents had sent letters of complaints to HSC of Ontario. The organization says they have received no such complaints and do not provide funding to group homes.