I received this in an e-mail from George Esser today. It really is sad that despite River City doing the right thing and improving the lives of people that a bi-law would still override compassion. Reminded me of this quote from Martin Luther King Jr.

One has not only a legal, but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.

The story is below.

Photo of River City

In a decision released today, the Superior Court of Justice found that River City Vineyard’s homeless shelter has positively changed lives and has the support of its closest neighbours. Despite this, the Court ruled that the City of Sarnia has the legal right under zoning laws to shut the shelter down, no matter how much good work the shelter has done. The church trustees will meet soon to discuss whether to appeal the decision.

The Court decided against the Church based on its reading of Sarnia’s zoning by-laws. However, the decision also expressly recognised that the Church had positively changed lives and that the shelter is supported by its closest neighbours. Paragraph 25 of the decision states:

“It is clear from the material before me on this application that good has come from the work done at the Mitton St. shelter and lives have been positively changed.”

“Most of the neighbours closest to the shelter supported its continuance.”

Reverend Esser believes the City Council is making the wrong decision. “We help people in need, we provide a social service for no cost to tax payers, and we are good neighbours,” he said. “The City’s decision is totally irrational because the shelter is a benefit in so many ways.”

The City has said that the shelter negatively impacts the neighbourhood. But River City submitted sworn affidavits (i.e. sworn statements) to the Court from its direct neighbours stating that there is no negative impact. The City of Sarnia only provided affidavits from City bureaucrats and a professional planner. They submitted no evidence of actual negative incidents from the shelter.

Reverend Esser said: “The City’s decision will hurt homeless people, increase costs on taxpayers, and send the message that Sarnia is not a caring community. Most Sarnians will be ashamed and saddened to think of all the people who will be left out in the cold.”

City officials told River City that their shelter could be relocated to an industrial or commercial area. But River City cannot afford a separate location. River City also believes that homeless shelters should not be banished to industrial or commercial neighbourhoods. Paul Kraehling, a professional planner with over 30 years of experience, agrees. In a report submitted to the Court, Mr. Kraehling concluded that a ban on shelters in residential areas is “neither reasonable nor appropriate.” He stated that “homeless shelters would be poorly suited for non-residential districts of a city such as in industrial or major commercial areas.”

Reverend Esser hopes that the church trustees will appeal the decision and that the decision will be overturned by the Ontario Court of Appeal. “At the end of the day,” he said, “I think that love, compassion, and sharing are important principles that Courts should protect.”

Attachments:
The Superior Court Decision
Opinion Letter of Paul Kraehling re Shelters in Residential Neighbourhoods

Sincerely,
George Esser