Steve DiGioia

A Pastor in a Legal Battle Against the Whole City of Bryan for Housing the Homeless

An Ohio pastor of the Dad’s Place, a church in Bryan, filed a suit against the city officials on Jan 22. 

 

The pastor was charged with harassment and violation for giving shelter to homeless people by the Bryan city officials, a small city that only has a population of 8,600.

The Church provided services to the city for the past five years and in March the pastor decided to house the homeless.

 

He kept providing shelter to the homeless despite warnings in the last weeks of December, Pastor Chris Avell kept the church open for 24 hours throughout the week for the homeless, who were the most vulnerable population exposed to the cold. This was a violation of the City’s zoning code which stated that the property’s first floor was a non-residential area. 

 

The Charges

 

Avell was charged with 18 zoning violations which are issued when property owners don’t work according to the regulations of the city.

Furthermore, the Pastor had violated the church’s fire code as observed by the local fire chief during a fire code inspection at the church. Nearly 18 fire code violations were discovered at the place.

He pleaded not guilty to the charges in the Jan 11 hearing according to online court records.

According to the city officials, Avell was given many warnings to adhere to the ordinance, but he refused. The 18 fire code violations could harm the safety of people visiting the church. His refusal was the only reason for the ongoing safety concern as he ignored all the notices issued. The City had issued a news release on Friday.

A Legal Confrontation

Abell took the charges personally and has now sued the city officials for discrimination based on religion and for launching a harassment case against the church on Monday.

The suit was filed against Mayor Carrie Schlade, Bryan Police Department Captain Jamie Mendez, Bryan’s Planning and Zoning Administrator Andrew J. Waterson and Bryan Fire Chief Doug Pool.

In his complaint, he mentioned that the church was providing for those who needed a place to stay for months. 

However, according to a press release by the city officials, the police department had received calls related to criminal activities, trespassing, harassment and drug abuse along with other unlawful activities since May 2023.

The city officials became aware of the housing at the Church in November, violating the city ordinance, for which a cease-and-desist letter was issued on Nov 3 to stop any further housing for 24 hours a day. 

The letter was a warning and stated the penalty of up to $100-$500 and six months in jail if he failed to adhere to the letter.

 

The suit

The suit is filed as the city’s actions have violated the church’s rights under the First Amendment, which forbids discrimination based on religion.

According to Avell’s complaint, the church was shocked by the letter as no such activities were occurring at the church according to him.

He had also reached out to Waterson to know how the church could carry on with the housing by adhering to the zoning laws and the Mayor for the same but did not receive any reply.

He had made lots of effort when he received the November notice, requesting a permit to continue the housing but wasn’t approved. He believed the city was trying to shut down Dad’s Place.

The complaint also mentions the constant threats the church’s landlord receives if the church is not evicted.

Pastor Avell is determined to fight against the city until the matter is resolved along with his attorney Jeremy Dys, who said that instead of supporting the church for taking care of the poor, the mayor was prosecuting a pastor for helping them.

While the city says that the Sanctuary Homeless Shelter which is operating just beside the church works cooperatively with the city in a legal manner whereas the church is violating the zoning code to do the same.

 

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