pastor convicted of "harboring homeless" breaks ground for

Tom Boland (
Thu, 2 Apr 1998 12:00:41 -0800 (PST)
FWD Monday, March 30, 1998


Shelter: Buena Park leaders and members of the jury that convicted the Rev.
Wiley S. Drake join him for a ceremony marking the beginning of a legal
facility to house the homeless.

  By TRACY WEBER, LA Times Staff Writer

BUENA PARK--A giddy Rev. Wiley S. Drake dug a gold-painted shovel into the
ground Sunday to celebrate that his two-year fight against the city to
house the homeless at his First Southern Baptist Church was nearly done.
      Barbara Drake, his beaming wife, took her turn. Then Wiley Jr., his
son. Drake's attorneys grabbed the shovel, followed by city officials. Then
to a round of applause, the most unlikely celebrator: the jury forewoman
who voted to convict Drake and his church last July of four misdemeanor
counts for letting homeless people sleep in a patio structure and camp in
the church parking lot.
      Cheering her on were three other jurors who all voted against the
blustery 53-year-old preacher in the high-profile trial.
     "We followed the judge's instructions and I knew what I had to do. I
had to find him guilty," said forewoman Becky Ostrander, a Buena Park legal
secretary. "But in my heart I said, 'No, he is not guilty.' "
     But Ostrander didn't just help break ground for the planned 52-bed
homeless shelter, she joined the church. And four weeks ago, Drake baptized
her as a Christian.
     "I initially came to try and support Wiley and the work he was doing,"
said Ostrander, 48, who hasn't missed a Sunday since August. "One thing led
to another and I found my home here."
     Betsy Johnson, who calls herself "Juror No. 2," has become a friend of
Drake's and now attends weekly Bible studies at the church. And Danella
Rivera, juror No. 8, plans to join her in Bible study next week.
     "We went over and over it in deliberations, trying to find him not
guilty," said  Rivera, who along with Johnson, cried as the verdict was
read. "We had to go by the law. It was hard."
     A judge placed the church on probation for three years and ordered it
to comply with city codes. Drake was spared time in jail.
     Only juror Johanna Long, who attended the groundbreaking mostly out of
curiosity, touched on Drake's famed contrariness. "I'm happy to see he
finally got rid of his stubbornness" and followed city rules for the
shelter, said Long, a Yorba Linda controller.
     After a celebratory church service, Drake led his congregation out to
the grass field behind the Western Avenue church. The first phase of the
project will be to  remodel the "infamous patio," Drake said, to house the
homeless until the 5,200-square-foot permanent shelter is finished.
     The city approved the remodeling this month and is reviewing plans for
the shelter. The building is expected to cost about $400,000 and Drake is
counting on the community to help raise the money and donate building
supplies and labor.
     City officials said they hoped their attendance at the groundbreaking
would serve as an olive branch between Buena Park and Drake.
     "All we ever asked is that there be a clean, safe environment for
these people," said Councilman Jack W. Mauller, who stressed that Drake
could have sought to build a shelter from the beginning.
      Drake said the city permit takes the taint of illegality away from
his church's mission. But he said his legal battles with the city "are far
from over."
      His skirmishes with neighbors, however, may be waning.
      Henrietta Duncan, 61, who can gaze at the shelter site from her front
porch, says most neighbors have stopped grousing about the planned shelter.
     "As far as I'm concerned, it's live and let live," she said. "We have
no complaints. Actually my mother's 90 and she enjoys watching all the
activity over there."


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