Mayor seeks church ex­emp­tion

VAN­COU­VER

Vancouver Sun - - Westcoast News - Churches would not need per­mits to shel­ter and feed home­less BY RANDY SHORE VAN­COU­VER SUN

Van­cou­ver Mayor Sam Sul­li­van says he will bring a mo­tion to coun­cil in April that will ex­empt churches from hav­ing to get per­mits to shel­ter and feed the home­less.

In do­ing so, the mayor told an in­for­mal news con­fer­ence Fri­day, he hopes to fi­nally defuse a f e u d b e t - ween the city’s churches and City Hall that has been sim­mer­ing for n e a r ly t wo years, since com­plaints by neigh­bours prompted city s t a f f t o r e - q u i r e t h e Tenth Av­enue Al­liance C h u r c h t o seek a so­cialser­vice use per­mit for a build­ing that it uses to de­liver ser­vices to the poor.

Tenth Av­enue Al­liance, like 20 other Van­cou­ver churches, of­fers food and shel­ter to the home­less, who some­times con­gre­gate by the dozens around the churches on days when food or shel­ter is made avail­able.

The city had never be­fore asked a church to seek the per­mits usu­ally re­quired of so­cial ser­vice or­ga­ni­za­tions for the work that nearly ev­ery re­li­gious faith is called upon to do by scrip­ture.

Af­ter 14 re­li­gious lead­ers held a joint press con­fer­ence last Au­gust, Sul­li­van met with of­fi­cials from the Tenth Av­enue Al­liance, who were caught in the web of city bu­reau­cracy, and with some of the un­happy neigh­bours who helped place the church in that web.

Sul­li­van is still work­ing with city staff to have the per­mit re­quire­ment dropped for the church, though he said church lead­ers still plan to pro­ceed with the man­age­ment plan re­quired un­der the old rules, even if the mo­tion passes.

“They are go­ing ahead with that work be­cause they re­ally do want to be good neigh­bours,” Sul­li­van said, tak­ing time out from Good Fri­day ser­vices at the Holy Rosary Cathe­dral to speak to re­porters.

Sul­li­van’s mo­tion in­cludes word­ing that rec­og­nizes the his­toric con­tri­bu­tion that churches have made in pro­vid­ing help and sus­te­nance to the poor.

De­spite Sul­li­van’s olive branch, there are still hard feel­ings. “This is not about the right of churches to serve the poor. That’s a given,” said Bill Chu, who or­ga­nized a group called Faith Com­mu­ni­ties Called to Sol­i­dar­ity with the Poor to op­pose the city’s per­mit re­quire­ment.

“I think the poor have a right to good gov­er­nance.”

Chu was also un­happy about the tim­ing of Sul­li­van’s news con­fer­ence. “I think its a farce to make this an­nounce­ment [on Good Fri­day],” he said. “I think this is more of a photo-op for his elec­tion cam­paign than any­thing else.”

Chu or­ga­nized lead­ers from the Chi­nese evan­gel­i­cal com­mu­nity and Protes­tant, Mus­lim, Jewish and Sikh lead­ers and clergy and sought to meet with city coun­cil, but Sul­li­van and the NPA op­posed that plan last Septem­ber, he said.

Chu at­tends Grand­view Cal­vary Bap­tist Church, which opens it doors once a week to feed the needy.

“This is still just a mo­tion,” said Chu, who wants to see Tenth Av­enue Al­liance Church re­leased from the per­mit re­quire­ment.

Sul­li­van says he is con­fi­dent the mo­tion will pass.

“I have met with the Tenth Av­enue Church and I know that they are called by their faith to do char­i­ta­ble works in the com­mu­nity,” said Sul­li­van.

If the mo­tion passes, churches that open them­selves up as shel­ters or soup kitchens can still ex­pect a visit from the fire mar­shall to en­sure that build­ings do not ex­ceed their safe ca­pac­ity and that fa­cil­i­ties do not pose a risk to life or safety, he said.

City staff are also pre­par­ing agree­ments and ne­go­ti­at­ing tools that churches and their neigh­bours can use to defuse con­flict over so­cial-ser­vice uses of church prop­erty. “Older than the church it­self, there has been a sa­cred mis­sion to care for the poor,” said Ken Shige­matsu, se­nior pas­tor of the Tenth Av­enue Al­liance Church, i n a s t a te m e n t re­leased by the mayor’s of­fice.

Sam Sul­li­van The mayor is still work­ing with staff to drop the per­mit re­quire­ment.

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