Faith leaders, City of London meet over Ark Aid zoning by-law

The battle between Ark Aid Street Mission and the City of London over zoning by-laws entered a new phase on Tuesday, and local advocates are optimistic following a meeting with the city.

On Tuesday, faith leaders met with the deputy city manager to discuss the fate of Ark Aid Street Mission — currently operating in First Baptist Church on London, Ont.’s Richmond Row.

As previously reported by CTV News London, the city handed First Baptist and Ark Aid a zoning by-law infraction because the church is zoned as a place of worship, but according to the city, the current lease with Ark Aid requires it to be zoned as an assembly hall.

Ark Aid has been temporarily operating out of the basement of First Baptist, providing food and showers to hundreds of homeless Londoners each day.

But after Tuesday’s meeting with City of London Deputy City Manager, Scott Mathers, it seems there has been a change of heart by the city as a solution is sought.

“The city is giving this a sober second look which is what we’ve all really wanted, and my hope is that the city will be able to say this was not the best application of this by-law,” says Canon Kevin George of St. Aidan’s Church.

In their argument, faith leaders explained that it’s not the city’s place to tell religious communities who they can partner with in order to deliver services as acts of worship in their place.

But after meeting with the deputy city manager, local advocates are breathing a sigh of relief.

“Scott [Mathers] was very helpful,” says George. “[He] assured me that he would work with faith communities as it relates to the work we’re trying to do with the winter coming on [and] that our communities don’t have to worry about the misapplication of this by-law again.”

Executive Director for Ark Aid Sarah Campbell says that after Tuesday’s meeting, she too is feeling hopeful.

“He [Mathers] let us know that we would not have to worry about our programs being shut down after Oct. 20,” she says. “In fact, we could invite churches and places or worship to serve our community.”

Following the meeting, more than 60 local faith communities came together on Tuesday afternoon to discuss pooling of resources from donations — including physical space and volunteers — in order to continue to support Ark Aid.

Both Campbell and George say the outpouring of support by the community has been heartwarming, and they encourage the community to continue to help by donating and volunteering.

— With files from CTV News London’s Jaden Lee-Lincoln and Daryl Newcombe 

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