Colo. church to resume lockers for homeless

Sep 9, 2019 by

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Fort Collins (Colo.) Mennonite Fellowship can move ahead with a lockers ministry for homeless people after it resolved a legal conflict with the city.

The city council approved a negotiated settlement Aug. 20 that includes a $60,000 payout to the church. The Coloradan reported the settlement also places 10 conditions on the church’s plans.

The church received what it thought was city approval to install lockers with 24-hour access in July of 2018, and installed them in September. But the city council reversed course and placed many more limitations a month later. Neighbors had urged the city council to block the church’s lockers ministry because they said it encouraged illegal activity.

This prompted the church to file a lawsuit in November with assistance from the American Civil Liberties Union claiming the city violated its religious freedom to practice “the ‘radical inclusivity’ of Jesus Christ.”

Under the negotiated plan, the church will provide 20 lockers for homeless people outside its downtown building. The lockers will have restricted hours of usage and camera surveillance.

The settlement’s conditions are similar to restrictions passed in October that triggered the religious discrimination lawsuit. However, the negotiated plan adds another hour of locker accessibility — which extends from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. — and does not require a church representative to be present during that time.

Supporters of the program challenged the stereotype that all homeless people are criminals, addicts or mentally ill.

The Coloradan reported the $60,000 payment was negotiated down from the church’s legal expenses, which surpassed $100,000.

“We believe this settlement balances the city’s interest in mitigating the effects on the neighborhood and balancing those with the fellowship’s religious rights,” deputy city attorney John Duval told The Coloradan.

Mayor pro-tem Kristin Stephens said she understood the neighbors’ concerns but the church had a right to serve people who are struggling.

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