Judge Evicts Homeless At Chruch Shelter: Santa Anna CA (7-12-97)

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Mon, 2 Feb 1998 04:49:40 -0800 (PST)


FWD July 11, 1997 by Lesley Wright  Los Angeles Times, Orange County Edition

QUOTING BIBLE, JUDGE EVICTS THE HOMELESS AT CHURCH SHELTER

SANTA ANA, CA

   An Orange County Superior Court judge referred to biblical verse
Thursday as he ordered the eviction of 24 homeless people living
in a makeshift shelter outside a Buena Park church.

   The decision caused Southern Baptist Pastor Wiley S. Drake to
break down in tears, even as he insisted he will not give up what
he calls his "religious duty" to help the poor and the needy--a calling
that has also landed him in court facing criminal charges for illegally
housing the homeless.

   "I'm obviously devastated that the judge would make it illegal for us
to help the poor," Drake said. "It's going to be business as usual . . .
as far as I'm concerned. We're going to keep telling people about
Jesus, feeding them, clothing them and helping them find jobs."

   In a written ruling, Judge Randell L. Wilkinson said he based his
decision on a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision and state cases
that have allowed cities to enforce zoning laws against churches, as
long as the enforcement does not burden the exercise of  religion.

   It "would appear that this state's highest court would show little
sympathy for the church's claim here," Wilkinson wrote, later adding:
"Render . . . unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's."

   Wilkinson also suggested that if Drake and fellow church members
want to help the homeless without violating the law, they could invite
the poor "into their own homes."

 The city last month asked Wilkinson to force the homeless out of a
large, makeshift shelter on church property because of safety
concerns, marking the latest round in a continuing feud between city
officials and the First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park.

   The decision puts the homeless in something of a bind.

   The ruling evicting them from the covered shelter is likely to send
the homeless back to outdoor camps on church ground. But the city
has already charged that those outdoor camps violate the city's
anti-camping ordinance.

   Drake goes on trial next week in Orange County Municipal Court on
criminal misdemeanor charges for allowing the homeless to reside
at the church.

   The jury in that trial had their hands in the air as they prepared to
be
sworn in just before noon Thursday when a call came into the
courtroom about the order in the civil case, said Jon Alexander,
Drake's attorney.

   Alexander said he was both angry and sad about the decision and
hoped to delay enforcement of the order.

 "At the very least allow these poor people the weekend to try and figure

out  where to go," he said. "When that notice is served, they will
legally
be ordered back to the pavement."

   Alexander added that the order illustrates the "moral bankruptcy" of
Orange County's judicial system.

   City Atty. James L. Markman countered that the order ensures the
physical safety of the homeless. He said he hopes to enforce the
judge's order today.

   "It means that at least we enforce the safety features of the building

code," said Markman, who said the shelter poses an extreme fire
hazard. "I am very happy that the structure did not light up in flames
while this was happening."

   Markman said the city is "not wearing a black hat" in the case but
simply believes it must enforce its building code equitably.

   "There is no wiggle room for the city; they have to enforce the code,"
he said. "Otherwise, every church could come in and say they do not
have to follow building code regulations."

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