River City shelter dispute in court in October; Esser asks again to work with city

George Esser

George Esser

Lawyers for the City of Sarnia and River City Vineyard have a date with a judge to hear arguments on the homeless shelter the city is trying to close down.

In 2012, city council decided not to renew River City Vineyard’s temporary zoning which allowed the church to operate a homeless shelter. The city ordered it closed July 31. But the church says under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms the church should be allowed to keep the shelter open because serving others is part of their religious beliefs.

City council then filed for an injunction which now will be heard starting Oct. 9.

But while the date for legal arguments is set, Pastor George Esser is making another attempt to resolve the issue with council.

Esser says he recently received all the complaints the city had on file about the shelter and says based on those complaints there is no reason to close the shelter. Esser says there was a lot of correspondence about the shelter, but he says the complaints which could have been addressed already have and the others are based on concern from neighbours about not feeling safe in the neighbourhood with the shelter open.

“There really is no problem and there hasn’t been for a long time.”

So, for the second time, Esser is asking council to work with River City Vineyard to keep the shelter open. He says it is a much-needed alternative for people who either don’t want to go to the Inn of the Good Shepherd’s facility or are not able to. “I think it’s the right thing to do,” says Esser. “After we looked at all the letters we said hey there is nothing here let’s talk.”

But Esser is not hopeful council will consider the move. “I think we’ll get a call from a reporter or two, but I don’t think they (city council) are going to respond; they’re not going to change their mind, they’re already too far into it.”

In order for council to change its direction, three councilors would have to change their opinion even for the debate to be held. Previous attempts to reconsider the issue have failed.

– Heather Wright