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City of Brookings to address churches feeding the homeless in council session

The Brookings City Council meets Monday night and will discuss adding 'benevolent meal service' as a conditional use under city code, as the practice has provoked ongoing controversy.

Posted: Oct 25, 2021 5:52 PM
Updated: Oct 25, 2021 5:54 PM

BROOKINGS, Ore. — The Brookings City Council will discuss Monday night under what conditions local churches will be able to feed the homeless, a practice that has provoked ongoing controversy in the area.

During Monday's 7 p.m. council session, the City Council will address whether to add "benevolent meal service" as a conditional use under the Brookings municipal code. The issue of churches providing services to the homeless is not a new one, and it's been percolating for months.

With few services for the homeless in Curry County, churches like St. Timothy's Episcopal in Brookings have taken to providing food and other help to those with nowhere else to go. But the practice has been a unpopular one for some others in the community, who say that the practice contributes to making the area unsafe or unsightly.

Vicar Bernie Lindley said that he is not looking forward to a situation in which the vote goes through, allowing the City to decide whether his church can continue serving those in need.

"We see that as a direct violation of our Constitutional right to freely exercise our religion," Lindley said. "To be told that we can't feed people or there has to be limits on how often or how many people we feed — or whatever the rules are that they want to come up with — if we apply for a permit then that permit can ultimately be revoked."

Lindley said that the COVID-19 pandemic increased the need in the community and only further limited the services available from other venues. At times, St. Timothy's has provided meals six days a week, or changed the days that they offer those meals based on the circumstances.

And Lindley said that it isn't just food and other basic needs that have been impacted by the pandemic. Mental health services have become harder for people to access, accompanied by the increased strain in other areas of everyday life.

"People have been displaced," Lindley said. "So consequently, over the last year and a half, there have been a lot more homeless people — but in their fragility, their behavior has been affected. In other words, they could kind of hold it together before, and now whatever mental health problems they have, they're acting out more."

NewsWatch 12 reached out to the Brookings City Manager and multiple churches in the community for comment on the proposal Monday, but had not heard back as of this article's publishing.

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