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Homeless Give $286 for Church Shelter Permit

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Facing a deadline to come up with $286 for a permit to build a homeless shelter, a controversial Southern Baptist minister got help this Thanksgiving from an unlikely source--the homeless men and women who depend on him for food and housing.

Members of the Rev. Wiley Drake’s congregation of the homeless raised that money to help Drake ward off a legal confrontation with the city. Drake said without the money, he could have been sent to jail on Monday when he planned to visit the city attorney’s office with his lawyer.

“I’m overwhelmed with their compassion,” Drake said as he stood in front of a closed City Hall, where he had called a news conference Friday. “We’ve been the helpers for over five years, and now we find ourselves being helped.”

All city offices were closed Friday and city attorneys could not be reached for comment. But Councilman Donald L. Bone dismissed Drake’s claim that he was headed for jail Monday as “ludicrous.”

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Bone added Drake would have been subject to prosecution if he had not paid the permit fee.

“That’s based upon the agreement that the pastor signed two or three months ago,” Bone said. “He knew all of the rules. He agreed to them verbally and in writing.”

Drake’s battle with the city dates back to midsummer, when his church was cited for violating the camping ordinance as well as several building and safety codes. Inspectors said he was allowing dozens of homeless people to camp on the church grounds, which is in a residential neighborhood.

Drake and city prosecutors finally compromised in early September when the minister agreed to build a shelter and pay for all necessary permits. The first, a conditional-use permit, would cost $1,903 and should have been paid when plans for the shelter facility were submitted.

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However, Drake submitted the plans without the money and then fell $286 short of raising it. He asked the City Council for a waiver but was refused.

Drake said about 50 homeless members of his congregation came up with the idea of raising the money themselves after he warned them he might go to jail.

“They began to get their pennies and dollars together,” Drake said. “For them to come up with $286, that’s a lot of money.”

Drake, who made an unsuccessful run for City Council two years ago, has been a thorn in the side of city officials and staff members for months. During hearings on his shelter, he packed the council chambers with several dozen homeless men and women. And during a difficult time in the negotiations, he urged his congregation to pray for the eternal damnation of council members.

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Friday at dusk, as a cold wind whipped through the City Hall plaza, Drake stood with about 30 members of his congregation behind him and half a dozen television cameras in front. One by one, members stood before the microphones and told stories of how Drake had helped them.

“This man is doing God’s work,” said Lane Owens, who got a job and a badly needed pair of glasses through Drake’s ministry. “If it wasn’t for him, I’d be out on the street.”

Sherry Shacter, who was raised in Buena Park and who now lives in her car, called the church “a safe haven.” Shacter criticized the city, saying, “It’s all a money issue. This is Orange County. There’s money here. The city doesn’t need that money.”

Drake suggested the city had singled him out for persecution, and said other churches have violated codes and ordinances without consequences. He suggested the city should waive other permit fees for construction of the shelter.

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“This is the least the city could do,” he said.

But Councilman Bone said other churches have always had to pay for building permits. “If I were to waive fees for Pastor Drake, what would I tell the other churches?” he said.

Drake said contractors and laborers have offered to donate time and materials for construction of the shelter. He said up to 70 homeless people now sleep at his church, some on cots in an open room, others in cars or vans in the parking lot.

The church also serves three meals a day and has showers and phones, he said.

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“The Bible says we’ll always have the poor, and we’ll always have a need to help the poor,” Drake said. “The people of Buena Park are just hiding their heads in the sand if they think this is going to go away.”

Bone disagreed, and said there are other resources for homeless people in Buena Park, including services of the Coordinating Council, which offers temporary shelter, food and clothing.

“Theologically I agree with the pastor,” Bone said. “It is the church’s responsibility to care for the poor and the homeless. But I totally disagree with the methods this pastor has chosen to pursue that goal. Why is this the only church in Orange County that needs to have TV cameras to take care of the homeless?”


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