An open letter to Mayor Gordon Schermerhorn, Napanee, ON | #NapaneeShame
Dear Gordon (do you mind if I call you Gordon?):
I read in The Star today of your apparent support for the people making life miserable for Kendra and Brian Henley and their clients. I googled around a bit and found more detail in some of the local papers.
I’m qualifying the word “support” with the description “apparent” because when presented with an opportunity to tell your side of the story (more on that in a minute), you declined or were unavailable to comment. All we’re left with, therefore, is what’s on the official record: your expression of sympathy, not for the vulnerable clients at Abbey Dawn Place, but for their ignorant and bigoted neighbours:
Gord (do you mind if I call you Gord?), just what’s so “upsetting” about this? What’s upsetting about people with disabilities finding a supportive and loving environment that allows them to live their lives with a modicum of dignity and independence?
Instead, they’re being harassed, bullied and ostracized:
The Henleys said neighbours became hostile toward them and their seven residents, all of whom live with various developmental disabilities, schizophrenia, or Down Syndrome.
Kendra claims neighbours made their displeasure known by such actions as staring at clients, using intimidating behaviour, calling them names such as “retards,” and blasting loud music for six hours at a time.
One neighbour built a wall on his deck because he “didn’t want to look at those people,” she said.
Away from the house, Kendra said clients were turned away from a yard sale and a fundraising barbecue, returning to Abbey Dawn Place in tears. Others were egged on Halloween night, which has resulted in the onset of panic attacks in one of the residents when they step outside the house, she added.
Gordie (do you mind if I call you Gordie?), I don’t know what makes people do things like this. Well, actually, I do know:
- Smallness of mind.
- Meanness of spirit.
I don’t want to think about what it must be like to be visibly different in Napanee. A few years ago, people like this would have been wearing sheets and burning crosses. And based on the evidence, it seems that you’re OK with that.
Gordo (do you mind if I call you Gordo?), it’s hard enough to understand how this kind of ignorance persists in 2012, but it’s absolutely gob-smacking to think that a public official could be enabling it. I hope you’re not just pandering to tiny-minded people uncomfortable with differences and disabilities. As a subsequent news article reports, some of them seem to object to the mere presence of Abbey Dawn’s clients, not just in public, but per se:
At a public meeting in October, residents of homes on the street brought forward numerous complaints and concerns about the Henleys’ operation. There was mention of numerous dogs on site, problems with traffic, multiple police calls (both from the Henleys on neighbours and by neighbours on nearby Abbey Place), residents spending time in the public family park located behind the group home.
As for your side of the story, in that subsequent news piece, you contended that your comments were taken out of context:
As for his comment about the west-end neighbourhood being the “wrong spot for a group home,” he said he did not want to make any comments that would jeopardize the municipality during the upcoming a judicial human rights inquiry.
“I’ll just make a short comment. There’s lots to look at up there. There are small lots, the houses are close together, some of the homes are for retired people, some have young families,” he said. “I thought it was, in my personal view, that it was the wrong spot for a group home.”
Really, Gordster (do you mind if I call you Gordster)? Small lots? Retired people? Young families? So what? Are people with disablities and illnesses dangerous or something? Do you consider them a threat to retired people or young families or people with small lots? Or are you playing along with people who think that way? Because it’s hard not to draw that inference from your remarks.
Gordmeister (do you mind if I call you Gordmeister?), it may be the case that there’s more than one side to the story here. However, I’m not big on False Equivalence. Nothing says both sides of the story are equally valid, and on this one, it seems to me that you’re on the wrong side.
From my reading, it appears that the Henleys are motivated by a desire to help those less fortunate than themselves. That’s what citizenship and community are all about. Those neighbours, by contrast, are an embarrassment to Napanee, to decency, and to the human race.
I’d respectfully suggest that you reconsider your position.