A local Maryland church has been fined $12,000 for providing shelter to homeless individuals living in the community. Over the last several years there has been a crackdown on privately funded charitable efforts, with local governments using food and safety concerns-along with zoning codes to penalize those who are trying to help those less fortunate.
Just last month, 4,000 pounds of leftover barbecue from the World Series of BBQ in Kansas City, Missouri was destroyed before it was able to be served at a local homeless shelter. Local health officials claimed that they could not account for the safety of the food, even though the chefs who prepared the meat were world renowned in their craft. As a result, 3,000 homeless people went without a meal.
In 2014, an elderly man in his 90s was jailed numerous times for feeding the homeless after a city ordinance was passed, forbidding citizens from doing so. While these are just a few examples, both instances demonstrate a pattern of local governments shutting down individuals who were willing to dedicate their time and funds to helping those in need.
The events currently unfolding at the Patapsco United Methodist Church in Maryland follow this same trend of punishing those seeking to do charity work on a private and voluntary scale. For some time now, a handful of homeless community members have been using the church for shelter during the late night hours. Since Maryland winters can be rough, having the church provide this option has been a lifesaver for many who would have otherwise slept out on the street.
Reverend Katie Grover lamented, “I can’t control who sleeps here at night unless I’m here all day and all night. Homelessness, poverty, it’s chronic. At this point in time, the best we can do as a church is just be a place of refuge and not be chasing people who are just trying to sleep.”
For the most part, the church has been able to provide shelter to these homeless individuals without strong opposition from the surrounding community. However, Chester Bartko, whose property line lies just behind the church, has insisted that the church put an end to providing shelter to those with nowhere else to go.
Bartko, who has repeatedly alerted local officials to the church’s actions, believes that the homeless should be seeking assistance elsewhere. “The county and state has facilities for homeless people. They shouldn’t be here living like this,” Bartko told local reporters. Bartko has also asserted that one of his apple trees, which rests on the other side of the church’s fence has been ruined by these homeless visitors, but these reports have not yet been confirmed.
Since the church does not have the proper permit which would allow these homeless visitors to reside there overnight, the city is demanding that the church pay a $12,000 fine by December the 18th.
In times of economic uncertainty, communities should empower churches and other private organizations to give as much as they are willing to give. By creating criminals out of do-gooders, and then sending those in need back to into the state’s arms, we are not doing anything to strengthen our communities.
Reverend Grover is beside herself now that she is unable to continue what she believes to be God’s work. “This is the business that we conduct carrying for the least, the last and the lost, and the best we can do right now is let them take refuge,” she said. “I had one woman say this is the only place she felt safe to lay her head down to sleep at night because she has no place else to go. It’s an issue with no real good solution, but we as a church believe that Christ has called us to serve the least, the last, and the lost.”