Chalk one up for the god guys: Living Stones Ministries stays open

Judge Peter Sakai ruled early this afternoon that Living Stones Ministries, the Eastside homeless shelter and church, could remain open, provided it accepted no new residents at this time, corrected any additional code violations and safety hazards, and applied within the week for an appropriate Certificate of Occupancy and zoning.

Living Stones residents, who along with supporters filled several of the courtroom's benches, breathed audible sighs of relief when Sakai announced his decision.

"Had it not been for that place, I would not have had a place to go," said Joseph, a former probation officer who is living at the church while he puts his life back together. After the court recessed, he led a prayer circle in thanks in the courthouse's hallway. "We're like a family. I just thank God we have a place to go today."

The City sought to close the shelter in the wake of a March 16 visit by the Dangerous Assessment Response Team, the City's multi-agency dangerous-structures abatement unit. City Attorney Savita Rai characterized the church as too dangerous to live in during the time it would take Living Stones Pastor Jimmy M. Spicer to address the CofO and zoning issues.

But Judge Sakai seemed sympathetic to the defense's arguments: Why if it was an emergency, for instance, did the City wait more than a week to ask the Court to close the place down (and then seek a reschedule for Thursday this morning)? And why did the City do nothing for more than a decade, while Spicer operated his homeless shelter without the proper paperwork?

"But the City would have to concede that it's known in the past that people were living there," Judge Sakai said to Rai. Rai admitted that was true within the past two years. "I wish we could be proactive `about addressing out-of-compliance facilities`," she said, "but we just don't have the resources to do so."

Living Stones residents, and other local ministries, believe that the crackdown was brought about by the imminent opening of Haven for Hope, the City's $100-million homeless-services campus -- a belief fueled by a visit last week to Living Stones by Haven's outdoor-courtyard liaison, Ron Brown. Brown told the Current Sunday that his organization is actively seeking partners to help with overflow food and shelter needs when Haven opens, but the visit coming on the heels of the City's enforcement action has left independent homeless advocates wary. Read more about it in Wednesday's Current.

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