Caring For Homeless People Brings Churches Into Conflict With Local Laws

( – The city of Bryan, Ohio last month dropped the charges against a pastor whose church provided shelter to the homeless while a federal court hears the lawsuit his church filed against the city, WKRC reported.

Dad’s Place pastor Chris Avell was hit with 18 code violation charges in December for keeping his church open 24/7 so the homeless had somewhere to go to get out of the cold. The city cited Dad’s Place with violations ranging from lack of a proper kitchen or laundry facilities to unsafe exits and improper ventilation.

Pastor Avell pleaded not guilty to the charges on January 11. If found guilty, Avell could have faced six months in jail as well as fines.

That same month, the church filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Bryan, claiming religious discrimination. Dad’s Place argued that providing shelter and food were forms of religious expression and therefore were protected under the First Amendment.

A city prosecutor in early February moved to dismiss the charges against Avell but said the city reserved the right to refile if needed.

Following the dismissal of charges, Avell’s attorney Jeremy Dys said the church would continue to provide temporary shelter to the homeless but agreed to work with the city to address the code violations.

Mayor Carrie Schlade, who is named in the federal lawsuit, said in a statement that she appreciated the church’s willingness to negotiate with the city to amicably resolve their dispute and ensure that those sheltering at Dad’s Place were safe.

The leaders of Dad’s Place decided in March 2023 to keep the church open 24 hours a day to serve as an emergency shelter. On a typical night, the church sheltered around eight people, with more staying during bad weather.

Since starting the overnight ministry, Pastor Avell said Dad’s Place had sheltered about 100 people who needed a place to stay during cold weather.

He told the Associated Press in January that he believed that each person who comes to the church for shelter “walks out a better citizen.”

The church’s lawsuit against the city is ongoing.

Copyright 2024,