Doug Ford says his desire to move a group home for developmentally disabled youth away from his ward is in the best interest of everyone involved, but critics say Ford is out of touch.
“I think kids with these challenges need more space than a little house with four walls sandwiched in between other houses in the community,” Ford told CityNews.
Ford is being criticized for his desire to relocate the Griffin Centre, a recently-opened facility in Ford’s ward of Etobicoke-North.
On Sunday, the Griffin Centre released a statement, saying: “Griffin Centre is disappointed in Mr. Ford’s comments. We had several contacts with Mr. Ford prior to opening the residence and prior to the community meeting. We are shocked by his negative comments and lack of support.” (Read the full statement below)
Ford and neighbours of the facility voiced their concerns at a community meeting last Thursday, citing frequent visits from emergency services in the last few weeks.
“I think it’s turned [the neighbourhood] upside down,” Ford told CityNews.
“Anyone who wants to criticize, come and talk to the community. These folks aren’t mean people, they want to help people,” Ford said.
Ford’s comments have triggered an angry response, with people including mayoral candidate John Tory and former Ontario premier Bob Rae blasting the Toronto city councillor.
Calling Ford’s comments “from another age,” out of touch, and insensitive, John Tory criticized the councillor for “inflaming a situation involving some of our most vulnerable citizens who need our support and understanding.”
“For years, it was thought the best way to help people with disabilities, including those with autism, was to place them in large institutions – a kind of confinement away from the community. Today, we know what is best for us and best for them is to include them in every possible way – at school and in our community,” Tory said in a press release.
The community newspaper the Etobicoke Guardian reported on Friday that Ford’s office organized Thursday’s public meeting.
Ford’s comments from the meeting drew condemnation on Twitter, including Rae who weighed in with a tweet on Saturday.
“This is the opposite of leadership on mental health. Doug Ford should be ashamed of himself – hurting not helping,” Rae tweeted.
It's long past time the Fords showed everyone respect. Kids with autism deserve support not attacks from Doug Ford. #TOpoli
— Olivia Chow (@oliviachow) May 18, 2014
The Guardian quoted Ford as saying another meeting should be held in two weeks.
Ford told CityNews he’s sitting down with the Griffin Centre to find a different location for these services.
“I’m going to do everything in my power to find a proper facility. Rather than boxing these young youth in four walls when they had a larger facility before,” said Ford.
Ford suggested the root of the problem is the closure under the Liberal government of the Thistletown Regional Centre in the Finch and Kipling area.
The facility closed at the end of March.
“It was a beautiful centre, had 43 acres that allowed families to have their children with challenges there. Since [Wynne] has closed that down they have dispersed these folks throughout the west end.”
Wynne did not directly respond to Ford’s comments when asked about the matter on the provincial election campaign trial Sunday in Mississauga.
She instead said her government had earmarked $810 million in budget funding over three years to help people with developmental disabilities, and blamed the opposition for shooting down the spending plan. The opposition parties’ refusal to pass the budget triggered an election set for June 12.
The services and programs that Thistletown provided were transferred to the community and the closure is in line with government efforts to “build a more co-ordinated mental health system,” the province said when it announced the closure.
At that time there were 15 adult and youth residents at Thistletown and about 400 people were receiving support through non-residential programs.
With files from Canadian Press
Griffin Centre full statement:
Griffin Centre is disappointed in Mr. Ford’s comments. We had several contacts with Mr. Ford prior to opening the residence and prior to the community meeting. We are shocked by his negative comments and lack of support.
Griffin Centre is an accredited, non-profit mental health agency committed to supporting youth and adults with developmental disabilities and complex mental health challenges and their families.
The Etobicoke residence is a home for up to 5 youth 12 to 18 years of age (we currently have 3) with mild to moderate developmental disabilities and mental health challenges, some may have autism.
We will continue to work at building a positive relationship with neighbours and answer any questions or concerns they may have.
We are committed to fostering positive change and a culture of respect, acceptance and safety for youth and adults with challenging needs so that they have a place to belong, and opportunities to build skills, confidence and connections to make the transition to a satisfying life, because EVERYBODY COUNTS!