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Pastor Fined $60,000 for Using Church Property as Shelter and Encampment for Unhoused

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Screenshot from Facebook / @Spike Cohen

Pastor Moses Colbert, a pastor in Gastonia, North Carolina, has taken extensive measures to house, feed, and educate his neighbors who are experiencing homelessness. Unfortunately, city leaders say he’s doing so without the proper permits and in violation of safety codes. The North Carolina pastor has been fined $60,000, and a judge has given him two months to make the necessary changes.

For several years, Colbert and local officials have faced off about his outreach efforts at Faith, Hope and Love Community Enrichment Ministries. The pastor placed trailer homes on church property for unhoused individuals, and about 100 more people live nearby in tents. Colbert’s ministry provides meals, education, counseling, and addition-recovery services.

The city, however, claims that Colbert has skirted safety regulations. Leaders say he can’t ignore zoning laws just because he has good intentions.

North Carolina Pastor to City: ‘Stop Demonizing This Ministry’

Pastor Colbert, who has assisted unhoused people for 20 years, was forced to close a previous shelter last year due to fire and safety violations. At the time, City Councilman Robert Kellogg said the closure was unfortunate “because the need is so great, but we can’t put that need above the safety of individuals in the building.”

Partly due to community pressure, the city allowed the North Carolina pastor to reopen his shelter, and the organization You Are the Power helped him buy trailers. But because the church property is zoned only for a church building, fines from the city have been accumulating.

Spike Cohen, founder of You Are the Power, posted that Gastonia is trying to “steal Pastor Moses’ property and run his church and shelter out of business. All because he’s done more for the homeless community, at no expense to the taxpayer, than the City has done with millions of tax dollars.”

Earlier this month, community members held a rally in support of Colbert and then attended a city council meeting. People who’ve received help from the ministry shared their stories, often through tears. Someone warned that closing the shelter will result in unhoused people being “scattered all over the county, and…doing all sorts of things to get by because they will have no other option.”

Pastor Colbert urged local leaders to “stop demonizing this ministry.” He said, “It looks like you’re discriminating against me, but it’s these (unhoused) people bearing the brunt of it.”

During a court hearing earlier this month, an attorney for Colbert said his client is “trying to do the right thing” but just needs more time. The judge granted a continuance until August but warned he won’t accept any excuses for noncompliance at that point.