After a week of fighting for the life of our church, our ministry to homeless youth, and our “Irenic” ministry, we are totally disheartened by Councilman Chris Wards statement this afternoon.
First, he states that we have known about these violations for months. This is absolutely inaccurate- these violations were received on August 31, 2019 after being told by the Senior Zoning Investigator William Dauphin that he believed “things were leaning in our direction.” Beside minor requests to correct repairs that we get every year during our fire inspection, we had no clue the City was planning to shut down our rentals or our youth shelter.
When I met with Councilman Ward in June, as well as Assemblyman Todd Gloria, it was to ask for support from being harassed by San Diego Police every time a particular neighbor called when we hosted an event at our church. It is true that at that time, the police suggested that they may begin asking us to get individual permits for every show, but everyone believed that would not be a problem. Councilman Ward pledged his support and we continued operating as we had. We did not speak of code violations or safety issues at that meeting.
Also, to suggest that this extreme order is a matter of “safety” and to question our churches commitment to the safety of everyone who comes on to our campus is absolutely absurd. San Diego Fire Department issued our yearly inspection report a month ago listing a number of corrections that we needed to make and offered us a gracious timeframe to make those corrections without shutting down any aspect of our ministry. Since receiving our fire inspection, we have installed fire extinguishers, emergency lighting, new exit signs, added smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and cleared all paths of egress. We also provide staff during our youth shelter who monitor the campus all night to ensure the absolute safety of our homeless youth, and have ample security and staff on site during every campus rental. Safety is our highest priority and has always been.
It should also be noted that The City of San Diego runs its own private shelters that have many more safety and hygienic concerns than our own shelter (see the news report here.) If the City is allowed grace to operate their shelter in these shameful conditions, it seems unfair to demand we close ours in the name of “safety”.
There is an attitude of complacency in the City of San Diego towards providing substantive answers to our homelessness crisis, and there is a consistent effort by our City to make those experiencing homelessness invisible. The City has a track record of penalizing churches, activists, and non-profits who seek to provide direct services to this community, and despite our best hopes, Councilman Wards Statement only seems to reinforce this status quo in our city.
We are disappointed but also undeterred. With the support of activists, community leaders, and individuals across San Diego, we will fight this violation of our religious liberty, this attack on those experiencing homelessness, and this attempt to rid North Park of community venues.