Metro, church at odds over homeless camp - WSMV Channel 4

Metro, church at odds over homeless camp

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

The pastor of a downtown church said his faith obligates him to help the poor, but Metro said the way his congregation is ministering to the homeless is against the law.

The Green Street Church of Christ is in the middle of an industrial neighborhood. In fact, it's right next door to a portable toilet business and is surrounded by warehouses. Oddly enough, that's exactly why the city said the church can't allow the homeless to live in tents on its property.

For several months, the church has allowed homeless people, like Roger and his mother Debbie, who didn't want to share their full names, to pitch their tents until they can find permanent housing.

"It's safer than uptown on Church Street and safer than downtown by the bridge," Roger said.

There are about 10 tents on the property, which has portable bathrooms, running water and rules - like no drinking or drugs. Many of the encamped also worship at the church.

Ed Lewis grew up in Nashville and moved back a few months ago after he lost his job in Oklahoma. He works odd jobs and sells the Contributor newspaper, but he hasn't landed anything to make enough money to pay rent yet.

"We've all applied to some program that would get us into a house or an apartment or something. We've all participated in some way of trying to find work. If there wasn't such a delay in finding work, we wouldn't be here," Lewis said.

But the city said the camp isn't legal. The area is zoned industrial, and the city's zoning ordinance does not allow camps in industrial areas.

Bill Penn at the Metro Codes Department said camps are not permitted unless something changes.

"Well, there would have to be a change to the zoning ordinance, to amend the regulation to allow tent camping," Penn said.

The church has been cited for a codes violation, and the pastor is due in court in November.

Attorney Tripp Hunt, who represents the church, said if they lose, the pastor will appeal.

"The pastor believes the Bible commands that all Christians help the poor, and that in fact, Matthew 25 says when you're helping a poor person, you're helping Jesus himself. This is really a religious fight, and the pastor's prepared to take it through the highest courts in the land," Hunt said.

Hunt said the area is perfect for a camp because there is a job placement center a couple of blocks away, warehouses where some find work and it is along a bus line.

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