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Future focus

People who live with disabilities or who struggle with their mental or physical health face stigma and negative stereotypes, often on a daily basis.

If their personal situation was not hard enough, common attitudes they encounter from residents, neighbours and members of the general public make it that much harder. Unfortunately, sometimes legislation – such as St. Albert's restrictions on group homes – also supports those attitudes.

While St. Albert sometimes gets a bad rap for NIMBYist (Not-In-My-Back-Yard) mentalities, the tone city council struck on Tuesday while considering group home restrictions is the right one. Councillors went against the recommendations of city staff and voted to remove a required 300-metre separation distance between group homes.

They also voted to amend the city's land-use bylaw to allow for permanent supportive housing, which would support people with physical or mental health needs, developmental disabilities or substance abuse issues.

It's the right decision for what in the past has been a contentious topic among residents, and it upholds the city's track record of prioritizing inclusion over exclusion.

Only two years ago, the city approved a group home for six young children over the screeching opposition of Pineview residents who fretted about traffic congestion, safety concerns for children already in the neighbourhood and the loss of the sense of community where everyone knows their neighbours. It's hard to forget the raving of one man who worried about "killers," "rapists" and "halfway-house people" in the neighbourhood.

On Tuesday, St. Albert's Eric King – a resident living with diabilities – put a human face to the type of people who often live in group homes. But there are many other faces and many other people being served by these homes, and all deserve to be treated just like every other St. Albertan.

Council as a whole chose wisely Tuesday, but not without some struggle as Coun. Sheena Hughes tried to remove people with substance abuse issues from those allowed in permanent supportive housing, citing resident concerns over crime and relapsing.

But substance abuse afflicts people in many walks of life, regardless of where they live. As Coun. Natalie Joly noted, "people throughout the city and in every neighbourhood" deal with addiction.

Stigmas are pervasive and hard to root out, especially when public documents such as bylaws contain language or restrictions that apply only to a stigmatized group of people.

The decision by council on Tuesday appeals to humanity's best qualities: compassion, understanding, helpfulness. It's one step on the long road to changing the minds of individuals who may still hold antiquated views of the impact group homes have on a community.

To quote Dr. Seuss, "A person's a person, no matter how small." And no matter how well-off they are, how healthy they are, or what mental or physical struggles they face, they deserve the same consideration as every other resident.