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“It’s great to have that place closed” – Province phasing out Harbourside Adult Residential Facility in Yarmouth

On Thursday April 4, 2019, Premier Stephen McNeil made good on his promise to meet Donnie MacLean to accept a letter, signed by individuals and groups representing over 100,000 Nova Scotians, calling upon the Premier to end the human rights crisis and unnecessary institutionalization of people with disabilities. Photo FaceBook

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – 27 institutionalized residents of Harbourside Lodge, an adult residential centre in Yarmouth, will move into community settings, a press release by the Department of Community Services, issued earlier this week, states.  

“Moving the 27 residents into a community is expected to take about 12 to 18 months. Safe and smooth transitions for residents are a top priority. Community Services will work directly with Harbourside Lodge to complete individualized planning for each person,” the department says.

“I think it’s great,” Donnie MacLean, president of People First Nova Scotia, tells the Nova Scotia Advocate. “It’s great to have that place closed and have the people that were there move to better housing in the community.”

People First Nova Scotia is a self-advocacy group whose members firmly believe that people labelled as living with intellectual disabilities should be included in decisions that affect them. ‘Nothing about us without us,’ is their motto.

The transition to community living may be difficult for some of the Harbourside residents, but it will be worth it, MacLean says.

“Some have been in institutions all their life. Now we’re just getting them out there to experience it. And when they experience it, they might find that they really do like it,” says MacLean. “ They’ll have their small option  homes, maybe in an apartment. They’ll still need somebody there to help them out with things like groceries and stuff and get organized and stuff like that.”

That said, MacLean urges the department to stick to the commitments of the Disability Roadmap document, a report that provides a high-level plan for the closure of all institutions.

“They got to start getting more done instead of just doing a little bit at a time. We said it should all be done by 2023,” MacLean says.

This is a good change

Patricia Neves, executive director of the Nova Scotia Association for Community Living (NSACL) shares both MacLean’s delight to see this first step occur, as well as his desire to see Community Services pursue the transition away from institutionalized living more aggressively.

Neves penned an open letter praising the department for its decision to close Harbourview. “This is a good change,” she says.

“When people live in institutions, they have so much less choice, they have fewer options, and they have very little control over their own lives. The department tells me that it commits to work very hard with the residents and the families to ensure they know what the residents want,” Neves tells the Nova Scotia Advocate. 

“If they would prefer to be in an apartment or house, if they want to have roommates, or live independently, all of these things people will have an opportunity to have a choice about. And they’ll make sure that the supports are still in place,” Neves says. 

“If they can’t prepare their own meals, and they need someone to come in  assist with that, then that’s what they’ll have in place. If you’ve never cooked your own meal before, maybe your support people will prepare your meals, but you can learn that skill. And you can have a say in creating the grocery list.”

There is a lot of work left to be done, says Neves.

“There are currently eight institutions in Nova Scotia, and Harbourside is one of eight that’s being closed. So seven more to go. And that doesn’t include the young people who are living in nursing homes, homes that are designed for older people, but we know residents in their 20s and 30s and 40s are forced to live in nursing homes,” Neves says.

And while Harbourside is being closed, a residence is being constructed in Sydney River that will house four children younger than 18 who are Autistic or living with intellectual disabilities, Neves points out.

According to Community Services about 525 people live in institutionalized settings. We know that many do so against their will. Many more are waiting for community living placements while living with parents or loved ones. The wait list is so long that only those considered in crisis situations currently receive help. 

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