New group homes provide residents with ‘a place where they really feel like they belong.’

Residents and staff of one of the new group homes celebrate a ribbon cutting along with dignitaries on Oct. 18, 2019 in Prince Albert. (Peter Lozisnki/Daily Herald)

Five new members of the Prince Albert community are adjusting to life in the city after moving here from the now-shuttered Valley View Centre in Moose Jaw.

On Friday, the Prince Albert Group Home Society and local dignitaries celebrated the grand opening of a pair of new group homes located on Sixth Street East in Prince Albert. The group homes are the 11th and 12th in Prince Albert, and according to Mayor Greg Dionne, the city now has group homes in every neighbourhood.

“We welcome group homes in our neighbourhoods,” Dionne said.  “It adds to the neighbourhood.”

The group homes society was approached by the province in 2015 to participate in the Valley View Transition Initiative.  Work began on the two new group homes in June of employees were hired and they travelled to Moose jaw to meet the potential residents. Working alongside Living Skies Development and Miller Contracting, the planning and construction of the homes began.

Harbour Home received its first two new residents from Valley View in January of 2018. Harmony Home received three new residents in April and May of 2018. Two residents from the local community were added to Harbour Home. The fourth bed at Harmony Home remains vacant as residents continue to adjust to their new life in Prince Albert.

“Our front line staff have done an exceptional job of making each new resident feel like they have a home and that they belong in our community,” said Prince Albert Group Homes Society president Deb Despins.

“We believe in the dignity and unique work of each individual and are diligent in assisting each participant in our programs to reach their highest potential and to live as independently as possible.”

The two homes received $832,988 in annual funding. The society received more than $4.4 million from the Ministry of Social Services annually to operate 12 residential group homes as well as semi-independent living and day programs throughout the city. The group homes house 49 people, while the other programs provide services for up to 25.

“It’s gratifying to reflect on how many neighbourhoods have become richer because of group homes like these being here in our community. That’s why we’re so proud to have helped fund this beautiful home,” said MLA Nadine Wilson, appearing on behalf of Social Services Minister Paul Merriman.

MLA Nadine Wilson greets one of the group home residents during a grand opening ceremony on Oct. 18, 2019 in Prince Albert. (Peter Lozinski/Daily herald)

 She praised the Prince Albert Group Homes Society for working to provide adults with intellectual disabilities with “person-centred support, care, services and love.

“Our community is right here and it makes a wonderful home,” she said. “Mr. Gary, Mrs. Gary, Allison, Linda and Mary jane, welcome to your new home.”

Group Homes Society executive director Jeff Gendron said the society is pleased to have the support of the city and their neighbours throughout the community.

“We have had in the past, (concerns about) what does a group home mean, is it going to affect my property value?” he said. “Bringing a group home into the area stabilizes the market value. There’s no perceivable impact on it.”

The organization, he added, has a good neighbour policy, working to address any concerns that may arise, such as sharing costs for a new fence. The relationship in most cases has been positive.

“Our folks are members of our communities,” Gendron explained. “As you can see, we’ve decorated for Halloween. We celebrate with everybody all year long with everything that’s going on in the community.”

Residents are taken to the mall, or to Raider games, or to the Alfred Jenkins fieldhouse, just like everybody else in the city, Gendron said.

That involvement in the community isn’t just good for the city, it also benefits the residents, Gendron said. One of the aims of the Valley View Transition Initiative was to move residents from an institutionalized setting to one where they can become a part of the community and share in everyday life.

“Many individuals have lived for decades within the Valley View Institution and have received a level of support that isn’t’ available anywhere else,” he said.

“Coming to a smaller setting in the community, there is an opportunity to be part of the community … that is a new thing for many of the people we support. It is a huge benefit to them.”

Dionne also knows how important it is to have that caring home for residents.

“I’m pleased to be here today because I also, in my family, have a special person. I know what it means to have accessibility for special needs people to come (to) a beautiful home like this. It’s made just for them,” he said.

Dionne said he takes an individual with special needs to every Mintos hockey game. It’s become a highlight of that person’s week.

“Anytime you get a chance to reach out to a special needs person, reach out, say hello, give them a hug,” he said.

Gendron agreed that it’s about more than just providing a roof over someone’s head.

“Once you have all of those physiological needs, the belonging needs, the love and affection come next. Without those, you can’t progress as a person,” he said.

“It’s not just that we provide a roof, a bed — we provide a place where people can grow and blossom. People not only have a place to be, they have a place where they really feel like they belong, where they have a family. We’re honoured to be a part of that.”