The cost of helping the homeless just got a little higher for a church that has allowed transients to set up tents in its parking lot.
The city of Seattle is levying $75-a-day fines on Trinity United Methodist Church for hosting the “Tent Village” community of homeless people who have been camping around the city for more than a year, according to an April 12 Associated Press (AP) article.
When 75 homeless people asked to spend six weeks in the parking lot of the church, the Rev. Rich Lang said his congregation’s 60 elderly members asked themselves, “What would Jesus do?”
“When Christians actually have to make a choice, it can be a very unifying experience,” Lang told the Baptist Center for Ethics (BCE). “This fine has further strengthened the church.”
Trinity United Methodist is appealing the fines, arguing they violate the First Amendment, Washington state’s constitution and the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which says government must have a compelling reason to use zoning laws to restrict religious groups. For example, if the land use poses a threat to public health or safety, then the government can restrict property usage.
The Tent Village has camped at nine other churches before setting up its movable community at Trinity, but this is the first time a church has faced fines, AP reported.
The fines were imposed in response to complaints from area residents, Bob Laird, code compliance manager for the city, told AP.
“The position the city is taking on this issue is completely immoral,” Lang told BCE. “What they are saying is that [the homeless] are better off sleeping alone under a bridge than in this community.”
The self-managed Tent Village, organized by the homeless advocacy group SHARE/WHEEL, requires residents not to drink, smoke, do drugs or fight while on the premises.
Lang said most Tent Village residents work.
“These are not the drunks under the bridge,” he said. “These people have very low-paying jobs and many use the Village as transitional housing.”
The sanctuary of the church can sometimes be the parking lot, he said.
“I am going to continue to put the pressure on the city,” Lang said. “I write the mayor and the city attorney every day … they are not going to forget about us.”
A decision on the appeal is expected by the end of the month.
Jodi Mathews is BCE’s communications director.