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Mayor Paul Horn: A Community Living Pioneer

Updated: Apr 6, 2022

Paul Horn worked in community living for decades before becoming Mission's mayor

BC Disability

April 4th, 2022

Mission Mayor Paul Horn spent decades working in community living, including helping with the deinstitutionalization of Woodlands.

We talked with Paul about his career in community living, the lessons he learned from closing Woodlands, and how his passion for inclusion guides his work as mayor.

Stay tuned to You & Me BC for a feature on Paul's current community work.

Tell us about your involvement in the community living sector

Paul: I should start by saying my heroes are Jackie Maniago and Jo Dickey, who were behind the creation of the Community Living Society.

They, along with other parents, had gotten sick of their kids being institutionalized, and created the model of community living that we have today.

I have always been interested in community affairs, and community living was a natural thing to me. I worked in group homes and also with the Community Support Workers Association of BC, including 25-26 years of teaching community support workers.

Through these experiences I learned a lot about interacting with people and getting things done. For me there’s no distinction between my life in community work and outside community work; it's all part of who I am.

You were involved in the closing of Woodlands - what was that like?

Paul: It’s quite remarkable to think that we were being pioneers of something when we were doing this work.

When we were deinstitutionalizing places like Woodlands, Glendale, and Tranquille, there was a parallel movement, with a medical approach being taken to the closure of mental health facilities.

Woodlands in New Westminster (left) and Tranquille Sanitorium in Kamloops (right)

For the most part the way deinstitutionalization happened for people with developmental or intellectual disabilities was vastly successful.

But the medical approach to the closure of mental health facilities went sideways.

Why did deinstitutionalization work in some cases but not others?

Paul: I think there are three reasons for this - three things that were lacking in the medical approach.

The first is inclusion. There must be valuable roles and meaningful relationships for people in the community. You don't just dump people in communities; they need to be included in those communities.

You don't just dump people in communities; they need to be included in those communities

The second's empowerment. People with lived experiences must have a say and genuine influence in what is happening to them. If we're asking a community to accept change, we better ask how it's working for them and make sure their input counts.

The third's dignity. Being able to respect the psychological, social, and physical wellness of people. We must ensure that people are being treated respectfully, and that they have genuine opportunities to be heard.

How has your work in community living impacted your political work?

Paul: I'll give you one example.

I had a call the other day, and listened to a lady talk about an issue for 15 minutes, and at the end she realized she just wanted to be heard and understood. This happens all the time.

People are astonished by the idea that if they phone I’ll actually listen and have a conversation with them.

The idea of bringing humanity to government is key for me, and it's come from my experience in community living. It's something I am incredibly passionate about.

How do we apply past lessons to make communities more inclusive moving ahead?

Paul: Along the way things have evolved. People have done a lot to build on our work and make it better.

But even today people say things that are very worrying, like we should reopen Essondale. They've lost track of the damage that institutions like this did to our communities.

That's why it's still as important as ever that we remember the past, and have voices from community living sharing their experiences, and designing systems that will actually work for people.

I really hope that these values are applied moving ahead, by governments and all decisionmakers.

Stay tuned to You & Me BC for a feature on Paul's current community work.


Spencer van Vloten is the editor of BC Disability. To get in touch, send an email to!


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