Monday, May 03, 2010

Westgate Tabernacle closes homeless shelter

Natacha Cenat and her daughter Jhazmyn, 4, wait outside Westgate Tabernacle with other homeless residents for a ride to another church mission -- this one in Fort Lauderdale.

When it came to the illegal homeless shelter operating out of Westgate Tabernacle, what the county couldn't shut down, a dwindling bank account did.

After spurning the county's efforts to close the tabernacle's shelter for 16 years, a debt totaling up to $200,000 prompted Pastor Avis Hill to evict his live-in congregation. "I've been preparing them for about a month now, telling them our situation," Hill said.

The county has battled the church for more than a decade, arguing that the 1920s building is dilapidated and unsuited for housing the dozens who sleep there nightly. It has fined the church tens of thousands of dollars for violating neighborhood zoning laws by operating an unlicensed homeless shelter. The church in return has -- so far unsuccessfully -- sued, claiming the county unfairly targeted its operations.

The fines and court costs have taken a toll. But so have the simple costs of day-to-day operations.

Still, not everyone is convinced this spells the end of the homeless shelter.

Sylvia Negley said she was turning down requests to house homeless at the tabernacle right up to Sunday night. "It'll probably start all over in a month or so, as it goes. You know Avis - I don't see him turning away anyone."

Read the Palm Beach Post report here.


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