I was preparing myself to write a recap of the year that is almost over and then a story came across my facebook feed that changed my mind completely. I read a headline that perfectly answers the question posed by a meme that asks: “There are over 350,000 churches in America. So why are there over 200,000 people sleeping on the streets?” One answer to that question comes via the headline I saw from WSB-TV: Church facing $12,000 fine for letting homeless people sleep on property!
WSB reports, “Rev. Katie Grover found a $12,000 citation attached to a church door when she went to the church one morning recently.
The citation said that [Patapsco United Methodist Church in Dundalk, Maryland] had violated a county regulation that prohibits ‘non-permitted rooming and boarding’ and that the church failed to ‘cease exterior use of property as housing units.’”
Grover says, “We feel, we here as a church, that it’s scriptural mandate, that it’s an imperative to care for the least, the last, the lost, the poor, [and] the hungry.”
Grover’s good deed is not going unpunished. On top of the $12,000 initial fine, that amount will increase by $200 per day if Grover and the members of the congregation fail to evict the homeless people from the property.
The Baltimore Sun reports, the church’s “policy for the homeless is unwritten and conditions are anything but grand. They sleep at times on a bench out front, in a small rectangular yard in the rear, or in a semi-enclosed garden in front of the sanctuary.”
Grover adds that she believes “there’s a spiritual dimension to it, ‘I’m here at a church; I’m safe.’” Adding that she is is following the tenets of her faith, “We’re just trying to do what a church is called to do, and that’s to love people.”
But one neighbor sees things differently. The Sun adds “Chester Bartko, who has owned Shore Produce and Seafood next door for 30 years, says the church is ‘harboring vagrants,’… [and] says he is frustrated by Grover’s ‘stubborn’ insistence that she is ‘doing God’s work’ by sheltering the homeless.”
Grover insists the church will not put up a No Trespassing sign in order to avoid the fine, with Grover asking “Who, then, is welcome to the church?” Nor will she call the police on the homeless for sleeping on the property. However Bartko or another neighbor could, and probably will, call the police if Grover and the UMC do not turn away those with nowhere else to go.