Downtown homeless drop-in asked to comply with city bylaws

Ark Aid Street Mission says it has been given a deadline to comply with municipal zoning rules by Oct. 4, or the homeless drop-in space will be forced to cease services.

The organization relocated to First Baptist Church on Clarence Street, behind the Victoria Park bandshell, during the renovation of its building in the Old East Village.

The drop-in space offers dinner seven days a week, lunch and afternoon drop-in space complete with showers, clothing and links to support services.

According to a news release from Ark Aid Mission, a letter sent by city hall to First Baptist Church Trustees indicates that the church is zoned as a “place of worship,” but the current use is considered the operation of an assembly hall.

In a letter responding to city hall, Pastor Al Roberts of First Baptist along with Ark Aid’s Executive Director Sarah Campbell stated, “The ministries that are being delivered in partnership with Ark Aid Street Mission are our expression of worship and have been, on a smaller scale, always part of the ministry work of our church…many other places of worship across our community provide similar ministry services to the poor and marginalized.”

The letter of response also asks civic administration to answer several questions:

  • Why was this use of our building considered outside of the “place of worship use” given the historical and shared experience of churches providing social justice, sanctuary and care to the marginalized?
  • What is the appeal process for this order?
  • What type of legal action may be taken if we are unable to comply with the order by October 4?
  • Will you be making similar orders on other places zoned Z1 that provide similar ministry services?

Recently, Pastor Joshua Lawrence of First St. Andrew’s United Church, Rev. Kevin George of St. Aidan’s Anglican Church, and Ark Aid Street Mission sent an invitation to over 100 churches and faith-based groups to meet on Sep. 27 to discuss supporting winter response homelessness this year.

“The church is the place of welcome, care and support for the marginalized and suffering. Throughout history, churches have responded to the needs of the community, utilizing their buildings for service. It is our calling and mission,” Lawrence stated in the news release.

“The city can’t ask the community to come forward with solutions and not offer space, options, or clarity on the implications of such an order!” added George. “Faith communities are eager to help, but seeing a bylaw questioning the ministry aspects of these services is unreasonable as it is our act of worship to serve.”

Ark Aid Street Mission says it serves 300 to 400 people each day at the Clarence Street location.

Many merchants along Richmond Row and city officials have expressed concerns about the location.

The number of Londoners experiencing homelessness living in the park and business district after Ark Aid’s relocation.

“If Ark Aid Street Mission is unable to offer services, there will be no consistent seven-day-a-week dinner service in London, nor will there be any drop-in service to accommodate over 20 people at a time anywhere in the City of London every day Monday-Friday,” explained Ed Wilson, chair of the board of Ark Aid Street Mission.

“The organization met with the downtown BIA and business owners earlier this week and the proposed solutions included moving locations, but with no option immediately presented, the suggestion was to open earlier and longer to provide people sleeping in doorways and parks a welcoming place [indoors] for breakfast as business owners and students arrive for their downtown activities,” Wilson added in the release.

Ark Aid Street Mission is holding a news conference Friday morning alongside the faith-based groups.

CTV News has asked city hall to respond to the concerns expressed in the news release.  

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