Monday night, a coalition of Waynesboro churches had one more chance to convince city council that it's time to ease restrictions on homeless shelters. In question is whether to require churches to have a permit to open temporary shelters.
The Waynesboro Area Refugee Ministry (WARM), is asking the city to amend its zoning ordinance, allowing churches - by right - to house a rotating thermal shelter without the need for a special use permit (SUP).
According to WARM coordinator, Jerry Kestner, last winter the church-run rotating shelter was a huge success. "I'm not aware of any negative impact that the shelter had on any of the neighborhoods we were in. Only thing I've heard has been positive," said Kestner.
But the only church in the city of Waynesboro that could house the homeless was Basic United Methodist. The rest of the cold season was covered by neighboring Augusta County churches.
Now, WARM has support for an amendment to the zoning ordinance. Rita Dunaway with the Rutherford Institute said, "It's not only the biblical mandate, but also the constitutional right of churches to care for the needy."
Concerned citizen Lin Hooper added, "Those who would deny them the freedom to practice the basic right of sanctuary are doing so in error."
City planners initially recommended denial of the request, but now believe that a special use permit would only be a burden.
Waynesboro Planning Director Michael Barnes said, "The benefit and the potential reward of a SUP doesn't meet the benefit of allowing these churches to operate as an institution and manage what is clearly a stated need."
In the end, the city recommends adding a thermal rotating shelter by right as long as they meet the city's definition. City council will consider the ordinance at the July 23 meeting.