Fined $12,000 for allowing homeless people to sleep on their property, a Maryland church received an arguable Christmas miracle this week when Baltimore County decided to drop the fine in exchange for educating homeless visitors about local shelters and programs. Although residents filed several complaints regarding the homeless encampment’s unsanitary conditions, the church’s pastor refused to turn away anyone seeking shelter and safety.
Earlier this month, Rev. Katie Grover found a $12,000 citation attached to the door of the Patapsco United Methodist Church in Dundalk, Maryland. According to the citation, the church was illegally providing non-permitted shelter to homeless people by allowing them to sleep under a tarped area behind the church.
In June, local residents filed a complaint against the church for providing non-permitted rooming and boarding to homeless individuals living in unsanitary conditions within a residential area. Despite receiving three additional complaints and a $12,000 fine from the county, the church never abandoned its own teachings.
“I’m not trying to be adversarial with anyone. We’re just trying to do what a church is called to do, and that’s to love people,” Rev. Grover told Yahoo News. “In Scripture, it talks about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick. Whatever we’ve done to the least of these, it’s as if we’ve done it to Christ himself.”
Faced with a $12,000 citation that equates to approximately 10 percent of the church’s annual budget, church officials agreed to begin educating homeless visitors about local shelters and substance abuse programs in exchange for dropping the fine. On Monday, Baltimore County agreed to dismiss the case against the church.
“Our aim in this was never punitive. It was always compliance and to find a middle ground,” Don Mohler, a county spokesman, told The Baltimore Sun. “We have a number of shelters and programs available to assist them so they don’t have to stay out in the cold, and that’s been our goal all along.”
“The church has its mission, and the community has their issues as well. You can certainly see both sides,” stated County Councilman Todd Crandell. “I’m thankful that it worked out the way that it did.”
Instead of immediately addressing the basic needs of Dundalk’s homeless population, the county initially decided to punish the few people willing to help fellow human beings. Although the homeless crisis in this country remains far from over, Dundalk and the surrounding areas do provide directory services for clinics, shelters, and treatment centers for homeless people, battered spouses, and anyone struggling with addiction.