An Ohio pastor is facing criminal charges after he opened his church doors for homeless people to find shelter from frigid winter conditions.

“The city of Bryan, Ohio, charged Pastor Chris Avell with multiple zoning code violations Dec. 8,” the Cincinnati Enquirer reports.

Police filed 18 criminal charges against the Dad’s Place church pastor over allegations the rented church building lacked proper kitchen and laundry facilities, had unsafe exits, and inadequate ventilation.

The Cincinnati Enquirer reports:

According to the city’s complaint, Avell allowed people to reside at his church in Bryan, called Dad’s Place, for extended periods of time, defying the city’s zoning rules. Dad’s Place is zoned within the city’s central business district, so people cannot eat, wash clothes or sleep at the property, the complaint reads. The church is located near several service agencies, a homeless shelter, comic book store and Mexican restaurant.

Dad’s Place opened its doors as a 24-hour warming shelter last March, 13 Action News (WTVG-TV) reports. The church often takes in people the neighboring homeless shelter cannot help, according to the outlet.

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“A reasonable amount of time was given for both the tenant and property owner to fix the issues,” Bryan police chief Gregory Ruskey told 13 Action News in a statement. “Due to the safety of all involved, the city moved forward with filing charges.”

According to a city press release, Avell was notified about his zoning code violations in November. During a Nov. 21 inspection of the church, fire chief Douglas Pool also found 18 “serious” violations of the Ohio Fire Code, the release said. Five more violations were discovered during January inspections.

The city said it will take “appropriate action” if the fire code violations are not corrected by Jan. 23.

Avell’s charges come during a time when frigid temperatures in the region have reportedly resulted in multiple deaths.

From an op-ed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

In some ways, Avell was trying to prevent what happened in Milwaukee – people dying on the street in the cold.

Homeless shelters fill up this time of the year as people seek refuge from the bitter cold. While shelters do their best to ensure no one ends up in the cold, people often get frustrated and tough it out on the street.

Avell saw a problem. He addressed the issue by helping 100 people and is now facing criminal charges.

Does this sound right to anyone?

According to the National Weather Service, an estimated 45% of the country’s population was under a wind chill warning or advisory for dangerous cold on Monday.

USA Today reported in December that the nation’s unhoused population grew by 12% in 2023, reaching nearly 654,000 people. The numbers represent the sharpest increase and largest unhoused population since the federal government began keeping totals in 2007.

A combination of the cold, growing unhoused population, and lack of housing shelters is the reason why charges against Avell must be dropped.

Instead of spending court costs and time on a pastor helping to address a problem, the city should devise plans for housing the homeless.

Maybe they can open a school auditorium when temps plunge or build a city-run homeless shelter. I guess the city sees doing God’s work as going after a pastor who is helping those in need.

If we were all taught to live by the golden rule, to do to others as we want them to do to us, I would hope helping people in their time of need would qualify.

Jeremy Dys, Avell’s attorney, called the city’s actions “unconscionable.”

“The city would rather kick these folks to the curb in the cold outdoor months of December and early January than allow the church to remain open 24/7 to those who need it the most,” Dys said.

According to the Associated Press, the church filed a federal lawsuit against the city.

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AP reports:

An attorney for Avell and the church, Jeremy Dys, said he thinks city leaders don’t want the ministry in the middle of town, describing it as a “not in my backyard” issue and accusing officials of inventing problems.

“Nothing satisfies the city,” Dys said Monday, hours after the lawsuit was filed. “And worse — they go on a smear campaign of innuendo and half-truths.”

During an initial meeting with the federal judge and lawyers for Bryan on Tuesday morning, both sides agreed to maintain the status quo, Dys said. As a result, he said, the church will remain open to those who seek its religious services until at least March 4, when the judge will consider its request for an injunction against the city.

Avell, who pleaded not guilty in municipal court Jan. 11, said his church wants to welcome anyone, regardless of the time of day.

“I truly believe that everyone who walks through the door of Dad’s Place walks out a better citizen,” Avell said in an interview Tuesday, adding that closing down the around-the-clock ministry “would lose what is actually a beacon of light downtown.”

“Sat Jan 13 – Tues Jan 16 the church doors at Dad’s Place will be open and the heat will be on. Anyone who could use a warm place to be this Christmas time can walk right in and enjoy hot coffee, cocoa, soup in our heated building. Stop in to warm up or stay as long as you/they need, everyone is also welcome join in any classes or services we have. Friendly pets are welcome too,” Dad’s Place said in a Facebook post on January 13th.

A GoFundMe campaign launched for the church has raised nearly $29,000 at the time of writing.

From GoFundMe:

Want to join me in making a difference? I’m raising money to benefit Dad’s Place Church of Bryan Ohio, and any donation will help make an impact. Thanks in advance for your contribution to this cause that means so much to me.

More information about Dad’s Place Church of Bryan Ohio: We are a ministry in Northwest Ohio and our mission is to Save – Sharpen – Send.

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