Phoenix makes it illegal for churchs to feed the homeless

  You don't really own your property. The government does and the government can tell you how to use your property! In the case the city of Phoenix doesn't want any homeless people in this nice north Phoenix neighborhood.


CrossRoads United Methodist Church in Phoenix loses appeal; can't feed the poor

by Sadie Jo Smokey - Nov. 10, 2009 12:00 AM

The Arizona Republic

A Phoenix ordinance banning charity dining halls in residential neighborhoods withstood a challenge by a north-central Phoenix church.

Retired Arizona Supreme Court Justice Robert Corcoran, serving as a hearing officer, ruled Monday that feeding the homeless at a place of worship can be banned by city ordinance. The decision affects all Phoenix churches with underlying residential zoning.

Over the summer, city officials maintained that CrossRoads United Methodist Church, 7901 N. Central Ave., violated Phoenix zoning code by feeding the poor and homeless on its property, a use that can only occur in commercial or industrial zones. City officials said the decision is effective immediately. The church appealed the citation, saying it is a church and is not operating as a charity dining hall. Church officials maintained that its actions were protected by the First Amendment and the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

In a 19-page opinion, Corcoran said the city can restrict where the homeless and poor can be fed and that zoning regulations apply to everyone equally. Additionally, he said that trumping land-use regulations is not a constitutional right.

CrossRoad's pastor Dottie Escobedo-Frank said the church board hadn't yet met to discuss the ruling. The church has until Nov. 24 to appeal to the Board of Adjustment.

"I'm disappointed, but we still have process," Escobedo-Frank said. "It's not over yet."

The controversy over the weekly pancake worship service arose last spring after neighbors complained about an increase of homeless people sleeping and loitering in alleys, incidents of burglary, aggressive panhandling, vandalism, public intoxication, prostitution and public urination. Parents of preschool students on the church campus complained that their children encountered transients in school hallways.

North-central Phoenix resident Scott Crozier said he's pleased with Corcoran's decision.

"This decision is more about protecting a residential area than anything else," he said. "The nice part is the church can support the homeless elsewhere with UMOM or André House, but we can't move the residential neighborhood."

Darlene Newsom, CEO of UMOM New Day Centers, a Phoenix shelter for homeless families, said following the decision, she's fearful of what will happen to other meal-based services provided at other Phoenix churches. Grace Lutheran in central Phoenix has a weekly breakfast worship. Other churches distribute bagged meals to the homeless.

"I was hopeful that there was a resolution so that the church could continue to feed the homeless and continue to maintain the safety of the neighborhood around the church," said Newsom. "I really would have liked to see a different outcome for a win-win for both parties."

Paul Barnes, a Phoenix neighborhood activist who spoke at last month's zoning-adjustment hearing, said churches must be mindful that zoning rules and restrictions apply to everyone.

"It's not a homeless issue, per se, it's the fact that you need to have some control, and that's what the zoning ordinance provides," he said. "It's not a problem with homeless people in wealthy neighborhoods. That would be a matter of prejudice. This issue would be setting churches up to avoid zoning ordinances."

Maryann Pickering, a Glendale zoning administrator, said because Glendale has a prescriptive ordinance, it's unlikely churches would have regular, on-site meal and worship services for the poor and homeless.

"If it's not written in the ordinance, it's not allowed," Pickering said.

Tempe has more progressive zoning ordinances, said Lisa Collins, Tempe's planning director. "We would see feeding the homeless as ancillary of the church," she said. "Churches have activities to support the community. We don't have any regulations that would prohibit something like that."


Homeless In Arizona