Christian duty, county law at odds
in Westgate trial
This is the fourth in a series of articles on how to minister to the homeless. It concerns a church that is intent on helping the homeless despite the efforts of the county where it resides. The county wants to limit the number served or close them down. They refuse. This has been an 8 year battle so far and the church will not back down. They are intent in their efforts to minister to the homeless where the county does not.
Find this story here
By Sonja Isger
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
WEST PALM BEACH – Westgate Tabernacle Church may be a place where the heartbreak of homeless men, women and children seems endless.
But what jurors should see first, said county attorney Amy Petrick, is a property owner who has engaged in a lengthy attempt to dodge county zoning and building regulations.
Church leaders built outdoor showers and toilets without permits and allowed people to sleep under a roof riddled by termite and water damage. They continue to pack as many as 100 people where county fire regulations say only 25 should bed.
Though they now claim they have a constitutional right to house as many homeless people in their sanctuary as they see fit, they once offered to seek a permit to shelter the homeless – up to 14 of them. “That’s what this is really about – the number of folks you can have in this facility,” Petrick said in her opening statements Tuesday in Palm Beach County Circuit Court.
While the church occupies only a sandy, weed-filled patch in a run-down neighborhood, the sentiment it has stirred about how this community cares for its homeless has filled newspapers, church petitions and dinner conversations.
One excused juror said she had resolved just this weekend to send the church a check. Another potential juror went home after the first day of questioning and asked her husband to pull Bible verses specifically on the homeless. After being excused, Michelle Damone, a married mother of two, said that years back she got caught in a tropical storm and was taken in by strangers. She remembers praying over dinner with them.
The church’s attorney, Barry Silver, is not only arguing that the church must fulfill its mission, but that the county government is failing its homeless by not providing adequate shelter. On the contrary, Petrick said, the county gets millions from state and federal government to aid the homeless and spends even more of its own.
The county and the church, which was built in 1929 just north of Palm Beach International Airport, have been at odds since 1999, when code enforcement officials determined the church was violating zoning laws by operating a homeless shelter in a residential neighborhood.
This is what ministering to the homeless means
Oldtimer’s Comment: You may think that “packing” people in a “termite riddled” and “water damaged” structure is not the proper place for housing the homeless, but when the alternative is a card board box or abandoned car or a high place on the ground in the weeds, you are wrong. If the county would provide the services, there would be no need for 10o men and women to show up nightly at the church. Besides, the description used in court papers do not always shine the light that illustrates the true conditions. See the YouTube video above and see for yourself.
These homeless people would not show up at the church night after night if there were safer or better accommodations. It is this church’s determination to serve the homeless in the face of fines and or closure that I applaud, not the conditions, which as I see from the video are not the same as those mentioned in the news article.