The recent opening of a Blue Sky Family Care group home on Cossitt Place in Corner Brook has cast a dark cloud over the neighbourhood, according to Glen and Angie Knee.
The Knees live near the home, for youth who come from difficult family situations, that opened on the street around three weeks ago.
Glen Knee says the families living on Cossitt Place have been “terrorized” since the group home opened. He said the teenage boys living in the home are constantly outside swearing loudly and even trespassing onto other properties in the area.
“I was working inside my garage one day and I heard something hitting the side of the garage,” a frustrated Knee said. “I went outside to see what it was and one of them was urinating on the siding.”
It’s gotten to the point already, said Knee, where the area’s children are afraid to go out and play, and older residents find it hard to enjoy their properties comfortably.
“If I hear a noise outside, I find I’m now immediately going to the window to see what it is,” said Knee. “Every night and every morning, I have to walk around my property to make sure everything is OK and nothing has been damaged.”
Knee said the home’s youth have been out on the street smoking cigarettes and skateboarding in the wee hours of the morning.
He and other neighbours have suspected there may even be drugs being consumed in the neighbourhood by occupants of the home.
He said he has tried to talk to the young people directly, asking them to be more respectful of the other people living in the area, but said he’s been sworn at by them.
“I’ve talked to the counsellors working there, but they don’t seem to have any control over these kids,” said Knee.
He has called the police and said the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary has been to the house at least 15 times since the home opened.
“The police encouraged me to keep calling them, but said there’s not much they can do because they are juveniles,” said Knee.
This past Friday morning, the RNC’s overnight report included one incident involving police responding to a report of a disturbance at a home on Cossitt Place Thursday. A 14-year-old boy was charged with uttering threats and breaching a probation order.
Knee said he saw police at the group home four times last Thursday. Police did not confirm if the youth charged was a resident of the group home as of press time Monday.
Glenn Grandy, Blue Sky’s chief operating officer, is aware of the concerns Knee and his neighbours have. Grandy was in Corner Brook to visit the home and to try to visit with some of the concerned neighbours Monday.
He doesn’t think the situation is as bad as Knee and the other residents have said it is.
“I think we’re into a (not in my backyard) perspective again,” said Grandy. “I think the incidents are somewhat getting blown out of proportion at the present time.”
Blue Sky Family Care operates similar group homes in St. John’s and several other municipalities in the province. The residents could possibly be boys and girls ranging anywhere from infants to 16 years old, but most homes have youth between the ages of 12 and 16.
The homes are not open custody facilities like Loretta Bartlett House in Corner Brook and the kids living there are not ordered to be there by the court system. Rather, they are kids who, for whatever reason, cannot live with their immediate families.
Homes like the one on Cossitt Place are considered Level 4 care homes, in which children under the protection of the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services live in staffed residences, as opposed to being placed with individual families.
The provincial government has recently contracted out the care for these youth to private, for-profit companies such as Blue Sky.
Grandy has been with Blue Sky family care for two years and said he can count on one hand the number of complaints received in metro St. John’s. The complaints, he said, usually involving minor incidents such as staff having parked illegally on a street.
“We are in similar locations (as Cossitt Place) in St. John’s and neighbours have no idea we are operating there, it is so quiet,” said Grandy.
Blue Sky checked with the City of Corner Brook before opening the group home and was told it did not require a permit to do so. Grandy said the company wants to stay on Cossitt Place.
Mayor Charles Pender has spoken with the disgruntled neighbours and the folks from Blue Sky Family Care. The city has reviewed the Urban and Rural Planning Act and Pender agreed the city has no legal right to deny an organization, such as Blue Sky, to use the property as a residence, even if it is for a group home.
“If we tried to block them, we could be in violation of human rights codes because we would be prohibiting somebody the use of a property based on discrimination against the people living there,” said the mayor.
The level and quality of staffing at the group home is the jurisdiction of the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services. With Monday a holiday for the provincial government, no one was made available to comment on behalf of the province.
In terms of any residents causing disturbances or being nuisances, Pender said that would be an issue for the police to deal with.
The Knees and several other Cossitt Place neighbours have started a petition they had hoped to present to Corner Brook city council Monday, but could not get it on the meeting’s agenda in time. They now hope to present it to council next week.
They have also written about their concerns to Vaughn Granter, the Tory legislature member for Humber West — where the group home is located — and have copied that letter to Premier Tom Marshall, who represents Humber East.
“We were never informed that a group home was being located in the area,” said Knee. “We are actually considering moving now, but I don’t know who would buy a house next to a group home.”
The City of Corner Brook would be willing to facilitate a meeting between Blue Sky and the residents of Cossitt Place to discuss the issues, said Pender, if both parties were interested in doing that.
Grandy said it is too bad that kids who need help have become the focus of such public scrutiny.
The Town of Stephenville recently denied Blue Sky a permit the town said it needed in order to operate there. Blue Sky has appealed that decision with the municipal review board.