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NC Pastor Fined $60K for Housing Homeless on Church Property Without Permit

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Members of the Gastonia, North Carolina community are rallying around a local pastor known for his work with the homeless after the city fined him $60,000 for operating a homeless shelter on property zoned for a church. 

Pastor Moses Colbert of the Faith, Hope, and Love Community Enrichment Ministries has worked with homeless individuals for more than 20 years. The ministry provides meals, counseling, education, and addiction recovery services to the homeless community, according to WCCB-TV.   

There are currently more than 100 people living on the property in tents, according to Queen City News

The outlet reported Colbert was fined for violating several city ordinances. He parked two trailer homes on the church's property and allowed people to stay in tents. The city has said it also received complaints about the amount of trash on the property. In May, the city sued the ministry after it didn't pay the fines. 

slider img 2Colbert told Queen City News that he wants to get his property up to code, but the city did not give him the time to make it happen. 

At a scheduled City Council meeting on June 20, he alleged city leaders were targeting his ministry, and it would be the homeless that would suffer for it. 

"Stop demonizing this ministry," Colbert told the council members. "It looks like you're discriminating against me, but it's these people bearing the brunt of it."

Some of the people Colbert is helping also addressed the council, making an impassioned plea to city leaders not to close down the church. 

One unidentified man said if the city forced the people to move, they would have no place to go, according to Queen City News

"What happens when they shut this down, and these 75-to-100 people have to go?" he asked. "Cause they're coming to your backyard; they're coming to the woods behind your house. … You're going to have a big problem on your hands because they won't be in one spot. They'll be scattered all over the county, and they will be doing all sorts of things to get by because they will have no other option." 

But the outlet reports there have been questions about safety. First responders have been called to the location more than 300 times in one year. One person also died on the property, but the cause was not revealed. 

Members of the community told Queen City News the number of homeless on the church's property is a reflection of the city's failure to address mental health and drug addiction, and not the church's inability to fully address health issues.   

"He's providing them with education, with rehab. He's providing them with every aspect of what they need to help them get themselves back on their feet, so they can become productive, happy, and healthy members of society," Spike Cohen, a community activist, told WCCB

A Superior judge has given the ministry until August to get the church property up to code.

This isn't the pastor's first run-in with the city.  Last year, he was forced to close a shelter for homeless individuals because the shelter violated fire and safety violations. City Councilman Robert Kellogg said at the time that the closure was unfortunate "because the need is so great, but we can't put that need above the safety of individuals in the building," Christian Headlines reported.  

The city later allowed Colbert to reopen the shelter after receiving pushback from members of the community.  

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Now the city says the property is not zoned for a homeless shelter, so he can help people during the daytime but cannot let them stay overnight. 

"Mr. Colbert has received numerous notifications that he is not permitted to operate a homeless shelter at his current location . . . his location is not zoned for a homeless shelter. Mr. Colbert is free to feed the homeless, conduct classes, etc., during daylight hours, but he is not allowed to provide overnight accommodations. . . neither safe nor suitable to be used as a homeless shelter," the city said in a statement to Queen City News

In a lengthy Facebook post last month, Cohen wrote the reason the city is trying to close Colbert's ministry is "Because he's embarrassing them, by doing more to help the homeless with money we've raised voluntarily than they've done with their multi-million dollar taxpayer-funded budget."

CBN News reached out to the City of Gastonia for additional comment. The city responded to our request with the following statement. 

"We are working diligently with our community partners to identify solutions to help those experiencing homelessness in our city. This process takes time and resources," the statement said. 

"Regarding the Moses Colbert case, the City has had a long record of interactions with Mr. Colbert during which time we have advised him of numerous code violations and the unsafe conditions at the property within our city limits. Despite constant intervention and notifications, the situation at his current location continues to deteriorate. For example, there have been more than 300 calls for EMS, fire and police to the area in the past year.  As with any other entity in our city, we have to ensure that city ordinances and state statutes are followed for the health and safety of our community," the statement continued. 

"We are waiting for the judge’s decision in this case and have no further comment on the pending litigation at this time. We will continue to work on providing essential municipal services to all Gastonia citizens," the statement concluded.

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About The Author

Steve Warren is a senior multimedia producer for CBN News. Warren has worked in the news departments of television stations and cable networks across the country. In addition, he also worked as a producer-director in television production and on-air promotion. A Civil War historian, he authored the book The Second Battle of Cabin Creek: Brilliant Victory. It was the companion book to the television documentary titled Last Raid at Cabin Creek currently streaming on Amazon Prime. He holds an M.A. in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma and a B.A. in Communication from the University of