When Rev. Katie Grover arrived to her church the other day, she was greeted with a notice on the church door, demanding payment of a $12,000 fine – because her church allows the homeless to sleep on church grounds. The Patapsco United Methodist Church near Baltimore allows two homeless men to sleep on their property, all because in this Christmas Season, those men have no other place to lay their heads at night.
The citation claims the church is in violation of a county regulation that prohibits “non-permitting rooming and boarding” of the homeless. Because the church is in a crowded neighborhood, this is seen as a “nuisance” for the community. While thousands drive by the church every day and many have observed the two men, known only as John and Warren, no one in the neighborhood has offered to help. They have only complained.
The $12,000 fine represents 60 days of $200 daily fines, an amount that puts great financial pressure on the small church, which averages about 50 in attendance on Sunday mornings.
Rev. Grover says, “We’re just trying to do our business, which is caring for each and every human being. The best we can do as a church right now is not deny homeless people access to a bench to sleep on.”
Charles Bartko, who lives near the church, has become a voice for his neighborhood. “I want them moved out of here,” he told a local television station in Baltimore.
I understand the position of law enforcement. There are laws on the books which they are simply enforcing.
I also understand the position of the church’s neighbors. Driving by the church and seeing two homeless men sleeping on property paid for and owned by a local church makes them uncomfortable. To them, it is an undue inconvenience to view poverty and homelessless. If we can put the homeless problem out of sight, we can pretend it doesn’t exist.
The church’s neighbors have three choices.
1. Leave the church (and homeless men) alone.
2. Step in and address the problem themselves.
3. Fine the church for offering the men a place to sleep.
By choosing option #3, the community reminds us of another man who didn’t have a place to sleep one night. His name was Joseph. The result? Jesus was born in a manger.
So while pushing the homeless men from the church property, the neighborhood is taking away a place for them to lay their heads at night – while they themselves lay their heads on cushy pillows in comfy houses, just across the street.
Here’s my question to the church’s neighbors. Unlike the homeless men you discard, you have a place to lay your head at night. But knowing their plight, and your role in it, how are you able to get any sleep?