Cleveland at odds with church over housing of homeless

December 29, 2019 GMT

CLEVELAND (AP) — The housing of homeless people by a church has put it at odds with the city of Cleveland, which said the practice violates building codes.

The Cleveland Division of Fire affixed a cease use notice to the door of Denison Avenue United Church of Christ last Tuesday, The Plain Dealer reported. The church says housing the homeless is part of its mission.

Last month, the Metanoia Project nonprofit had opened a hospitality center for homeless people at the church, offering services including cots for sleeping.

The Cleveland Building Department delivered a violation notice, following a visit by the fire and building departments Dec. 19 and discussions with the church. Building commissioner Thomas Vanover and the fire department’s Chief Inspector Douglas Veselsky cited numerous concerns about the safety of people sleeping in the church.

Having people sleep in the center is an illegal change of use for the building, and the church must apply to allow such a use, the building department said. Code violations make the building unsafe for people to sleep there, even if staff members are awake and monitoring the premises, where up to 50 people might be served each night, the fire department said.

The church will appeal to the Cleveland Board of Building Standards & Building Appeals, said Pastor Nozomi Ikuta.

“In essence, this forces us to choose between our identity as a church and helping homeless people,” she said. “We want to work with the fire department to resolve any concerns it might have, but we don’t think we should have to stop being a church just so we can help keep people off the street.”

Homeless advocates led by the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless have coordinated an effort to protest the city’s position, saying it indicates a lack of commitment to helping hard-to-shelter homeless people.