SCOTTSBURG, Ind. (WDRB) -- A group of homeless people seeking shelter at a Scott County Church could soon be back on the streets.
Earlier this year, Sovereign Grace Baptist Church found a new mission in ministering to the homeless.
"It was a need that wasn't being met in the community," Pastor Derrick Walker said. "They are created beings in the image of God just like any person who might be considered privileged or not."
Walker saw people in need of love and support but didn't have much to offer besides his church.
"We move the pews out of the way and just have an open room and open recreation room in which people are given a cot, pillow, blankets," he said.
Walker started allowing the homeless to stay at the church in January. He says about a dozen people stay there at a time.
There's mandatory bible study, no drinking and no drugs, with monthly drug testing to hold people accountable. The main goal is to help people get back on their feet.
"We do it because we're a church and because of what scripture tells us to do," Walker said.
But soon the people staying there could be back out on the streets. On Saturday, the pastor received a letter from the City of Scottsburg.
"They're trying to reclassify me from a church to a homeless shelter," Walker said.
That would require several legal and structural changes to update the official use of the building and the pastor only has 10 days to start the process or the city could shut him down.
"The even bigger issue is they're trying to redefine what worship looks like, which is a challenge to my religious liberties," Walker said.
The Mayor of Scottsburg, William Graham, sent WDRB the following statement via city staff late Sunday evening:
"Homelessness is an issue of great concern to our community and the community is banning together to make a positive difference in the lives of the homeless. Several churches, and individuals, are feverishly working to meet the needs of these individuals. We are blessed to have these efforts. However, the health and safety of the people being helped, the people helping, and the neighborhood must be addressed.
There are many regulations from Federal, State and local governments that must be adhered to so as to ensure the health and safety of all is not jeopardized. The International Building Code is very specific about Health and Safety standards, and the zoning classification necessary for the church as it is presently being used. There has been no notice to close this facility. They were notified, by the City’s Local Building Official, that they have 10 days to start the process of becoming compliant.
There was a meeting in the Mayor’s office on June 7th with the Pastor of Grace Sovereign Baptist Church, members of some supporting churches, some members of the homeless coalition, the Mayor, Scottsburg Chief of Police and the Mayor’s Assistant, where many concerns from both sides were expressed. The City of Scottsburg wishes to work together to ensure code compliance and the health and safety of the homeless and of all the community."
Neighbors living in a community near the church had differing views on the homeless staying there. Some said the homeless housing makes them nervous and others said they haven't noticed any issues at all.
"Because people in the community have a negative view of this because they don't understand fully, they want us to stop ministering to the homeless," Walker said in response to community concerns.
Even still, the 10-day deadline set by the city leaves the church and its followers with little options for the future.
"They're worried, they don't know, they don't have a place to go," Walker said.
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