Letter to Sarnia City Counsel regarding the Zoning and Permanence of the River City Vineyard Homeless Shelter

I presented this yesterday at city hall in Sarnia, here is the article about the decision.

My name is Nathan Colquhoun and I live and own a home with my wife on Devine St, directly beside the Inn of the Good Shepherd food bank.  I just wanted to take a moment and address the council specifically because they are making the decision today but I also because I think that my words will be important for those that live near the shelter as I believe that I live in similar circumstances to them and may have some insight.Every day I interact with, observe or am affected by the Inn of the Good Shepherd. With over 500 people using their services a month, my front lawn is a revolving door for the kinds of people that are generally stereotyped by society and even my own neighbours as a drain and unsafe and many of them give an “unsettling” feeling that I read so much about in the report. Many of the people that use both the homeless shelters in Sarnia also utilize the services of the Inn’s food bank on Devine St. Depending on the kind of person I want to be, and the kind of home that I want to have, will certainly dictate the kind of reaction that I should have to such events that transpire in front of my home day in and day out. I assure you, that I want a safe community. I want a community where my kids can play in the front yard and I want a neighbourhood where I don’t feel like my home is a prison. I understand the opposition. I want the same things.Coupled with that desire though is also the desire to make the world a better place. It’s a desire to not see anyone anywhere have to live in an unsafe neighbourhood. It’s a desire to see everyone have a home and a neighbourhood that they can call there own. In trying to balance these two hopes, I’m left with no other choice by to support rejection the staff’s reccomendationl and encourage the counsellors to create permanent allowance and zoning for the homeless shelter at River City Vineyard.

This is not the first community to try and reject a homeless shelter in their backyards and it won’t be the last. The opposition’s arguments are expected and are documented and are all textbook opposition to these kinds of issues as I have read through studies of similar circumstances. I understand the views and I sympathize with them. However I believe that if the suggestion is acted on it will be worse for this community, and other communities in Sarnia. I believe that by rejecting the charitable attempts by our citizens in attempt to keep ourselves safe we do more harm than good in a community.

I know the argument is that we have a homeless shelter all ready that isn’t at capacity, but obviously by the sole fact that there is still people living at the Vineyard shelter proves that it is needed. If it wasn’t needed it wouldn’t be there. Who are we to tell the people using there facilities that what they want isn’t needed anymore? There seems to be a demand for it. If there wasn’t then we wouldn’t be here supporting its continuance. It doesn’t sit right with me that the people saying that it needs to be shut down are not the same people that are using its services.

There is a list of arguments that I find substantial to support the Vineyard Homeless Shelter. For instance, Canadian government studies by the National Homelessness Initiative show us that the development of shelters improves the quality of life for the neighbourhood for a number of different reasons such as removing slum landlord rooming houses, supervised living, more transparency and community support. The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights states in Article 25(1): Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of oneself and one’s family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond one’s control (emphasis added). It is also important to note that discrimination of people through the use of zoning is referred to as “people zoning” and was made illegal by the Supreme Court of Canada (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, 2001).

“Homelessness has both human and economic costs to homeless individuals themselves as well as to the broader community. The longer people are homeless, the more expensive it becomes to support them (e.g. emergency hospitalization, correctional facilities, etc.) and the greater the cost to their self-esteem and ability to help themselves. Studies have shown that the
provision of safe and secure shelter can lead to a reduction in homelessness, improve stability, as well as provide individuals with mental illness, addiction, and chronic illnesses with a higher quality of life. These are more cost effective solutions that require less government funding or subsidization than traditional forms of interventions, such as hospitalization, crisis care, incarceration or institutionalization (Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California (NHP), 2000).”

These arguments and laws, though I think are valid are not the real reason as to why I think the Vineyard shelter should be allowed to stay. Laws don’t motivate my desires. My desire is to see Sarnia become the kind of place where we aren’t inspired by laws to govern the way that we live and how we accept people where they are at. When laws become used to prevent people from doing what they think is helping the world, I fear that the purpose of laws have been overlooked.

Vineyard exemplifies the kind of hospitality that I think our communities should be displaying. We need to be the kinds of communities that journey along side of people when they are at their weakest not remove them from our midst so we don’t have to deal with them any longer. Healthy communities keep the most troubled folks the closest to them and learn to live alongside of those that are the most broken. It’s these kinds of communities that are the safest because it will produce kinds of people with the hearts bent in the right direction and a safe place for people on both sides of the economic spectrum. I don’t want to live in a community that cares about themselves while ridding all that brings fear. I want to be part of community that faces into fear and seeks to transform their fear into love and goodness. Good transforms the bad, if we want it to. We need to be the kinds of communities that are seeking to transform our communities into places we are proud of for everyone that is in them, not rid them of everything and everyone that makes us uncomfortable.

City council, you have a hard decision to make. In many ways you are deciding between an moral dilemma for citizens of wanting to keep there families safe and comfortable and on the other hand wanting to live in a healthy community that helps the weak and vulnerable. I know this isn’t easy, and I know that no matter what you decide will upset someone. However, my encouragement is to look at the long term affects of such a decision and see these kinds of shelters as crucial to health of a community and their overall safety as studies have proven and my experience has proven as well. Communities need to rally behind places like these, volunteer at them, support them and by doing so they will create it into a safe place that they trust (such as the Inn of the Good Shepherd next to my home which is trusted by thousands in the city now). Once a community can take ownership over a project they will see how this project actually is better for everyone around them, especially those that don’t need the services of the shelter. The long term benefits of having places of service and help in a community are longer lasting than the fleeting feeling of safety because we’ve kept scary and uncomfortable people away.

So I support the Vineyard Homeless Shelter and wish that it get the proper zoning to create a permanent place of help for those that are in need. The evidence leans greatly on the side of this decision and if we actually want to be a healthy and safe community then having places like this nearby to jolt us out of naivety and to serve those in need will be good for us. I believe it will negatively affect the quality of our lives if we do not allow the Vineyard’s Shelter to stay. As Sarnia starts to include important initiatives such as Circles into the plan of the city, it would be a large oversight to not see multiple shelters wherever they are being used as a crucial part of the overall plan. Thank-you.

One Comment

  • I’ve always felt that giving those who need a warm safe place have choices. It promotes dignity and humanity. 50 years ago the old hotels on Front St or Christina St or the Balmoral in Point Edward were theclanding spot for those on the fringe and women and children had nowhere. I know this as it affected my own family, my grandfather was one of them my grandmother, mother and her siblings were among those at the mercy of charity by church or reluctant family. Giving dignity is in my view essential. Providing choice is part of that. Thank you Nathan, say yes to zone application.

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