NIMBY in Phoenix: Church Forbidden to Feed the Homeless

I found this rather interesting.

A Methodist Church in Phoenix has been told to stop its pancake breakfast/worship services because they are attracting the homeless, and city zoning codes mandate that you can only feed the homeless in commercial and industrial zones, not in the residential zone that the church is located in. And a retired judge (sitting as a ‘senior judge’) upheld the ordinance.

I have really strong feelings about this: I see it as a travesty. But there is a point to expecting churches to comply with zoning codes. (And they may have only been serving pancakes, but to me it looks like everybody is coming out of it with egg on their face.)

Thoughts and comments? (I’d really appreciate it if it doesn’t get spinned into yet another debate on the (non)existence of God/irrationality of religion – the fact that it was a church doing something for religious motives is, to me, secondary to the humanitarian ethical questions involved. Thanks in advance for complying.)

Yeah, that’s fucked up. Particularly if it’s not for the express purpose of feeding the homeless and just a part of their normal worship services. Sounds like an infringement upon freedom of religion to me.

I once went to a Catholic Church in Red Bank NJ and they had a prominent sign saying that while some churches think it better if you show up to church at all, they’d rather you not show up looking like a schlub. My view on it was that I didn’t want to go to a church where John the Baptist wouldn’t be welcome.

I concur. Any DA prosecuting this case may be looking for a new gig in the near future.

I dunno; depends how the voters feel about the homeless and much of a problem (real or perceived) they were in the past. The fact they that a zoning law in place suggests the homless (and presumably those perceived to be encouraging them) won’t get a lot of sympathy.

At the risk of sounding like an inhumane jerk I can see why people are having a problem with the pancake worship. (mmmm…pancake worship) When I go to work there is a large number of transients. We’ve caught people having sex at our doorway, people sleeping in our doorway, there is a large amount of litter made up of beer cans and bottles throughout the area, and on occasion we run into some aggressive panhandlers. I’d be plenty pissed if I had to deal with that kind of thing in my neighborhood.

It’s tough to tell from this article whether or not the pancake worship was just a part of their worship or was specifically designed to feed the homeless. I don’t know if it’d make a difference though.

Would it be OK if some group that wasn’t a church decided to do this? I don’t see why churches should get a free pass on zoning ordinances. What’s to stop me from declaring my home to be a church and having a yard sale every day of the week? (Illegal in residential zones where I live.)

Homer: I know I shouldn’t eat thee, but…

Anyway, let the church set up a tent in some vacant lot in a commercial area for their pancakes.

This is what I came in to suggest.

Here in Fresno, CA there are tons of concentrations of homeless in certain areas. It is childs play to find a couple dozen homeless folks to feed.

With all due respect, I think your thread title is a bit misleading. They’re only being forbidden from feeding the homeless in a specific given location – i.e. in a residential neighborhood. There’s nothing, AFAICT, from stopping them from going into another part of town and serving there. Heck, the city might be willing to work with them on this.

As Odesio points out, bringing the homeless into a residential neighborhood does present real problems. Put yourself in the shoes of the atheist a block from the church who has to deal with the homeless shitting in his yard (and yes, this does happen).

I know churches that have specifically located themselves in the city to minister in urban environments. I suspect this is a church that wants to have it both ways: a location in a nice middle class neighborhood with all that that brings and just a pinch of social ministry so that we can feel better about ourselves. I’d be a lot more inclined to be sympathetic if they were really engaged in homeless ministry besides a few pancakes on the weekend. Looking at their website, I don’t see that.

Then you don’t understand freedom of religion jurisprudence. Waving a banner saying “God” doesn’t exempt you from laws of general application, unless you can show the purpose of the law is to impact the religion specifically.

I can sympathize with the neighbors on this one. Personally, I’d be pissed off at any business or organization that is bringing this to my doorstep.

I can’t get too upset about the DA or the judge, who are after all just upholding the law. But there’s nothing stopping me from getting upset at the legislature (presumably city council) who put the law into place in the first place.

I may not. But they are not complaining that they are having a soup kitchen, because they are not. They are not complaining that they are having a morning breakfast that feeds the congregation. What they are complaining about is that poor people show up and eat that breakfast. Basically it’s ok to feed people as long as they are wealthy enough to afford to buy pancakes at the diner, but not ok if this is the only meal they’ll get for the day.

It’s pretty sickening.

So the problem isn’t the breakfast, it’s who is being served.

No, the problem is that they are violating a zoning ordinance. Why should a church get a free pass?

But I am not getting the impression that they are ‘feeding the homeless’ just that they are hosting a breakfast at the church and the homeless show up.


We had a similar law here in Las Vegas. It was rightfully struck down. cite

What does RTFA mean?

You do understand that they lost the appeal, right? So they are in violation of the zoning ordinance.

Bolding mine.

By the same criteria if I have some homeless people over for dinner, I can be shut down. They aren’t feeding the homeless, they are feeding the congregation and homeless people show up to get some pancakes and they don’t discriminate who they feed by level of poverty.

‘I’m sorry sir but only people with apartments or who own property may have these pancakes. Can you show me proof of residence first?’

Read the Fucking Article

Yes, I understand that, and it’s a terrible fucking decision. They are saying that a private organization cannot host meals on its property unless they actively discriminate against homeless people.