River City Vineyard has big plans to enhance the services it offers Sarnians in need.
The 12-bed men’s shelter and food bank is planning to officially reopen this month as River City Sanctuary with more staff, better facilities and improved programs, said manager Owen Vroom.
“We are better equipped. I think that all of us are on a bit of a learning curve, and we come up with new ideas and new ways to handle people’s individual situations. Because every person is an individual and they’re always going to have a different problem.”
The Sanctuary will continue to offer homeless men an in-house shower program, clothing “store” and learning resources.
Something new that’s already successful is a transitional housing program, Vroom said.
“We assist people in finding apartments, and the county, through the province, has supplied us with money to help them with their first and last (month’s rent) or subsidize.”
Housing has been found for 16 clients, which should help ease pressure on the shelter itself, said volunteer Don Wells.
“We’re not trying to make it into a full-time thing. We’re trying to get these guys moving along.”
Vroom said the Mitton Street church’s ability to build relationships with clients sets it apart.
“It’s different here because we’re more community oriented. We actually interact and spend a lot of time with the people who stay with us,” he said.
Other improvements include additional security, surveillance cameras and heavy-duty lockers for clients to store belongings.
River City’s homeless shelter was ordered closed in 2014 following a lengthy battle with the City of Sarnia.
Some neighbours had complained about noise and vandalism associated with the operation, prompting the city to argue it didn’t conform to municipal zoning bylaws.
But the Ontario Court of Appeal overturned the closure order in 2015, saying the shelter had never contravened city bylaws, resolving a court fight that cost taxpayers $168,000.
Vroom said the new Sanctuary will do everything it can to ensure its neighbours aren’t impacted.
“We don’t want to be seen. We don’t want to be noticed, and we don’t want to make any trouble for anyone.”
River City Sanctuary continues to fundraise. Financial donations and non-perishable food items can be dropped off at 260 Mitton St. North.