Written by: Decision Magazine
Article source: harbingersdaily.com

First Liberty Institute is defending an Ohio pastor facing 18 criminal charges for housing the homeless in his church overnight—and he receives a new charge for every day the church remains open, he says. City officials charged him for violating zoning laws.

Chris Avell, pastor of Dad’s Place in Bryan, Ohio, started opening the church to the homeless 24 hours a day, seven days a week in March 2023. The local homeless shelter was usually full and had to turn away hundreds of people every year.

“I used to be an atheist, and this is what God did for me,” Avell said on Fox News, his voice heavy with emotion. “I was spiritually homeless and He provided a home for me in Heaven. … He’s put a burden on my heart for them.”

In November, the city sent a letter and posted a sign warning the church that it would face criminal prosecution if it did not stop housing and feeding the homeless on church property. The pastor said that was something he simply could not do—“I have to follow Christ.”

The charges were filed on New Years’ Eve, when police reportedly came to the church and gave Avell a packet listing the charges against him. One of the issues allegedly is that the church has no bedrooms—though it is not allowed to have bedrooms—and another is that the building is zoned as central business, so people are not allowed to eat, wash clothes or sleep on the property, according to Action News in Toledo, Ohio.

The chief of Bryan Police Department sent this statement to Action News: “A reasonable amount of time was given for both the tenant and the property owner to fix the issues. Due to the safety of all involved the city moved forward with filing charges.”

Dad’s Place has remained open to the homeless despite the charges. Community members and the local homeless shelter are in support of the church’s ministry. “The city, churches and community in general should work together,” the director of operations at the Sanctuary of Williams County Homeless Shelter said. “There is nowhere else for these people in Williams County to go. We have to turn away around 600 people every year.”

“They would rather kick these folks to the curb in the cold outdoors of December and early January than allow the church to remain a church open 24/7 to those who need it the most,” said First Liberty attorney Jeremy Dys.

People have asked Avell why he doesn’t just “send them to Florida where it’s warm,” he told Action News. “We’re not here to play church, we’re here to be the church … and show them what it looks like to have a God who loves them and cares for them and is willing to lay down His life for them.”

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Date published: 03/02/2024

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