When Rev. Katie Grover arrived on a recent morning at Patapsco United Methodist Church, one of two congregations she pastors in the Baltimore area, she was surprised to find a $12,000 citation attached to the door. According to the citation, the church, located on a busy street in Dundalk, Md., had violated a county regulation that prohibits “non-permitted
rooming and boarding” houses by allowing homeless individuals to sleep on church grounds. Patapsco UMC failed “to cease exterior use of property as housing units,” read the inspector’s comments. “People still living in rear of property under tarped area.” Now the church has to decide by Sunday, Dec. 18, whether to evict homeless individuals from its grounds or pay a $12,000 county fine that would severely strain the small congregation’s lean budget.
Grover is aware that homeless people occasionally take refuge outside the church, either on a bench in front of the church building or a concrete slab where trash bins used to be stored. Two men in particular, Warren and John, have been regularly sleeping outside of the church for the past two years. One has attended a few worship services and once bought a lily from the church in honor of his mother.
To the Methodist minister, allowing those without beds to stay on church property is part of her Christian duty. “We’re just trying to do our business, which is caring for each and every human being,” says Grover. “The best we can do as a church right now is not deny homeless people access to a bench to sleep on.”
Ellen Kobler, deputy director in Baltimore County’s Office of Communications, characterizes the sleeping arrangements differently. Homeless people have made an encampment on church property, she says, explaining that the county defines an encampment as any place a homeless person would sleep, including a bench. CONTINUE