Bill Andrews leaves Croydon Villa – his home for the past 26 years – with his sisters Win LaCroix and Barb Andrews Thursday. (Tracy Holmes photo)

Families ‘blindsided’ by word longtime South Surrey group home will be closed

Last Christmas for Croydon Villa ‘family’

Linda Aubert doesn’t know how she’ll tell her brother that this Christmas will be the last he’ll share with his tight-knit ‘family’ at Croydon Villa; that he is losing the only home he’s known for the past decade.

“Ronnald doesn’t even understand the fact that my parents are dead,” Aubert said of her 59-year-old sibling, who moved into the two-storey, bright blue group home on Croydon Drive in April 2010.

Nonetheless, it’s a message she’ll have to deliver sooner rather than later, following news the specialized residential care facility is to cease operating as a group home early next year.

“It’s one of those things you think, it really can’t be happening,” Aubert said. “How do you move people that don’t comprehend what’s going on?”

Aubert said she and family members of four other residents who live at the home were “blindsided” in August by word that Croydon Villa’s doors would be closing. It was shared during a meeting with Community Living B.C. officials that Aubert says she’d initially understood was to be solely about reassessing her brother. She only discovered it was something more when she called the agency to try and re-schedule, she said.

Then, in late September, the expected closure date was bumped up by six months, to January from July, she said.

While Aubert said CLBC “made some noise about audits” when she asked for an explanation for the closure, an emailed statement to Peace Arch News from the agency this week said the move is one of two underway in South Surrey, and that both are due to the service providers retiring.

“Our goal is to provide people with stable, long-term homes,” the statement, provided Monday afternoon, reads. “However, when a group home provider retires, or cancels their contract, people may have to move from one home to another. This is the situation for two staffed houses in Surrey that are homes to five and seven individuals respectively.”

The statement adds that when a move is required, “CLBC staff work with the individuals, their families and the providers to find new homes that they are happy with and meet their support needs.”

“Staff will support these individuals to stay connected and continue to be part of each other’s lives.”

Aubert and the sisters of another resident, Bill Andrews, say finding appropriate care for their loved ones is not an easy task, and they are scrambling.

Win LaCroix said one place that CLBC suggested for 72-year-old Bill, who was one of Croydon Villa’s original residents, was, to them, “reminiscent of Woodlands” – the New Westminster institution infamous for the physical, mental and sexual abuse that many children suffered within its walls before it closed in 1996.

READ MORE: Woodlands’ survivors promised $10,000 compensation by B.C. government

She didn’t want to name the facility that she and her sister Barb Andrews visited, but described it as “very sterile,” with “lockdown doors” and other characteristics they were “quite horrified” to see.

“He’s what they call a survivor of Woodlands,” LaCroix said of her brother.

“There was many things that totally told us (the suggested facility) was not the place for Bill. To put Bill in a setting like that… he would be at risk.”

Years ago, when the family found Croydon Villa, “we thought we had found heaven for Bill,” she said.

READ MORE: South Surrey fundraiser aims to raise awareness

Word of its closure – which the sisters have so far only hinted at to their brother – “has been handled terribly,” she said.

“It was very upsetting for all the residents’ families as well. It was a complete surprise.”

Homeowner Aurora Salem, who operates Croydon Villa with her husband Roland, declined to comment on the closure, preferring to leave “the narrative” to families, but told PAN she considers the residents “more than my family.”

“They’re more family than my blood family,” she said. “It’s a pure joy working with them.”

Aubert said she took a chance when she placed her brother, who has Down syndrome, at the group home after her dad was no longer able to care for him.

Ronnald had never been in “the system” before, she noted, and she remembers being nervous about how it might affect him.

While it took a year at Croydon Villa before he understood it was home and stopped trying to pack his suitcase to leave, Aubert said Ronnald has “flourished” ever since. He came out of his shell and even began expressing his opinions – something he’d not done before, she said.

The bond he developed with the other residents “just never changes,” she added.

Aubert said full credit for the progress goes to Croydon Villa staff and the Salems, and that she is “deathly afraid” the closure will take it all away. She still has “no idea” where he will go.

Aubert said the families realize they can’t stop the closure – although letters have been sent to the ombudsman and the premier regarding the issue.

Knowledge it is coming, however, makes the residents’ Christmas party this Saturday all the more bittersweet.

“This family is having their last Christmas together,” Aubert said, her voiced choked with emotion.



tholmes@peacearchnews.com

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Ronnald Uszkalo expresses himself during a visit to Croydon Villa Thursday. (Tracy Holmes photo)

Linda Aubert shares a moment with her brother Ronnald Uszkalo. (Tracy Holmes photo)

Linda Aubert is concerned for her brother Ronnald’s future. (Tracy Holmes photo)

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