Mayor seeks church exemption
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.