Niagara Gazette

Local News

April 15, 2014

MEETING: Ferry Avenue shelter advocates speak out.

Niagara Gazette — Community members supporting a Christian mission on Ferry Avenue filled council chambers Monday at City Hall, with many of them voicing their disappointment with the city's recent decision to shut down one aspect of the operation.

Leaders from the Niagara Gospel Rescue Mission were joined Monday by a large group of supporters — including people who said they have turned their lives around with the help from the mission and its programs. The group pleaded with city lawmakers to reverse a code enforcement department decision barring the Ferry Avenue building from housing homeless men overnight, a key component to the mission's overall operation.

Shaun Smith, the mission's executive director, told lawmakers the city's decision will put more homeless people out on the street where they will be more likely to get off track, as many of the men who use the shelter's beds are struggling with addiction.

"Our goal is to turn lives around so that these people who come from the streets can become productive citizens that actually contribute to society," Smith said.

The mission, which opened in 2010, had been operating an overnight program for homeless men from day one. It was forced to stop last week after receiving a letter from code enforcement officials saying the residential neighborhood where the home sits is not zoned for "transient" use.

The mission has continued to offer free meals to needy city residents and programming for people struggling with addiction.

Dennis Virtuoso, acting director of the code enforcement department, said the mission has the opportunity to apply to the city's zoning board of appeals for a use variance.

"They do have the right to appeal our decision," he said.

Virtuoso stressed that the mission was very well-run and that the issue with the operation is only related to city zoning codes.

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