OCEANSIDE — City Council approved churches providing emergency winter shelters, but bans churches in the downtown area from providing shelter for the homeless.
The decision was made in a 3-2 vote on Oct. 16. Mayor Jim Wood and Councilwoman Esther Sanchez voted no.
First Christian Church Elder Phil Woelfel said he was disappointed with the decision that excluded his church from providing emergency winter shelter.
“We had a shelter last year that was successful,” Woelfel said.
Downtown residents at the meeting said homeless folks waiting for the church shelter to open regularly urinated and littered on private property.
Many of these complaints were directed at First Christian Church on Freeman Street. Residents said there have been problems since City Council granted a temporary resolution to allow emergency winter homeless shelters three years ago.
“They’re leaving beer bottles, using the hose for a shower,” Ken McCormick, Oceanside homeowner, said. “I represent tenants who pay good money to live in the property. They have a right to live in a good property.”
Woelfel said the complaints shared were unwarranted. First, the church has only had a winter shelter for one year.
He added that neighbors have previously complained about the monthly last Sunday breakfast the church has offered as an outreach service for three years.
In response to neighbors’ concerns the church has taken steps to monitor breakfast participants and ensure they are not congregating in front of nearby homes.
“The breakfast feeds 150 people, including homeless and people from our congregation,” Woelfel said. “It’s upbeat, positive and we have great food.”
As far as anyone leaving beer bottles or urinating on private property Woelfel said these allegations are false. He specifically addressed the claim that winter shelter residents left beer bottles in the adjacent alley.
“Hundreds of people a week use that alley,” Woelfel said. “They have nothing to do whatsoever with the trash behind this guy’s place.”
Last year’s winter shelter residents were closely monitored by the church as a courtesy to neighbors. They arrived at 5:30 p.m., lights were out by 9 p.m. and they left by 7 a.m. each day.
“We do not let anybody loiter around,” Woelfel said. “I think we do a good job.”
Woelfel said the church has made efforts to remedy complaints from neighbors, but sometimes homeless individuals seeking church services take the fall for the bad acts of others. He added that several church members, including two church deacons, are homeless.
“We’re trying to be as Christlike as we can and see bygones be bygones,” Woelfel said.
Woelfel said the church has previously sheltered eight to 11 people a night and would be glad to put a management plan in place.
“We got a number of (homeless people) off the street and we’re proud of what we’ve done,” Woelfel said.
City Council’s decision sided with downtown homeowners. Councilman Jerry Kern said it was City Council’s duty to protect neighborhoods.
“(Homeless shelters) attract a nuisance here,” Kern said. “The city is 42 square miles. Excluding five miles is not that bad.”
“I understand the compassion, but we can’t allow our neighborhoods to get run down,” he added.
Councilman Jack Feller said he hopes First Christian Church can join ongoing area efforts to continue serving homeless.
“I hate to turn anybody away if people are willing to do the work,” he said.
Woelfel said the church works with Brother Bennos to feed and clothe the homeless and is known as their “western arm.” The church will continue its monthly last Sunday breakfasts, Thursday night Christian coffee house and other outreach services.
“We’re just trying to do what God’s calling us to do,” Woelfel said. “Our field is at our doorstep. We would be negligent to God if we didn’t address it.”
Feller added that he is happy with City Council’s decision to put guidelines in place and not allow shelters to be “anything goes.”
Sanchez objected to banning downtown churches from providing shelter.
“The homeless are going to be downtown regardless,” Sanchez said. “Every city has an issue with homelessness. We need a more permanent solution. It’s making it even harder for families to get through this mess.”
Wood acknowledged that the chronic homeless often have a multitude of problems including mental illness and alcohol and drug addictions, which negatively impact others.
“We’re trying to be big hearted and putting the burden on the churches,” Wood said. “They have to be responsible for how they’re affecting the neighborhood.”
City Council approved churches outside the downtown area providing emergency winter shelter for up to 50 people per site from Dec. 1 to April 15.
“This is what churches do,” Margery Pierce, neighborhood services director, said. “Let them do good works.”
Churches are required come up with a management plan that includes security, client case management, and good neighbor policies. The site must also pass a fire department inspection before the facility is allowed to house homeless.
The requirements provide guidelines, but do not demand churches obtain conditional use permits. Previously the city did not have enforceable guidelines in place.