Niagara Gazette

Local News

April 15, 2014

Big show of support for Gospel Rescue Mission

Community members supporting a christian mission downtown filled the council chambers at Monday's city council meeting, many of them voicing their disappointment with the city's 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 have turned their lives around with the help of the mission. The group pleaded with the city council to reverse a decision handed down from the city's code enforcement department banning the mission from housing homeless men overnight, a key component to the mission's operation.

Shaun Smith, the mission's executive director, said 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 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 its overnight program since opening, but was forced to stop last week after receiving a letter from code enforcement saying the residential area of Ferry Avenue 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, the director of the code enforcement department, said the mission has the opportunity to apply to the city's zoning board of appeals to get a variance.

"The 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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