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Churches Show Interest In Proposal To Allow Homeless To Camp On Property

By Rick Sallinger

DENVER (CBS4) - A coalition of groups called ASAP is asking churches, temples and mosques to take in the homeless onto their property and let them camp, saying they would be protected under the religious use exemption act.

But some residents are worried that while showing compassion is good, it may also bring crime.

The Rev. Amanda Henderson heads the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, part of a coalition of religious, business and homelessness groups asking churches to take in the homeless.

Amanda Henderson
Rev. Amanda Henderson (credit: CBS)

"On land that people can camp on or designate yurts or space that people can exist in public," said Henderson.

(credit: CBS)

The First Mennonite Church of Denver is one of the churches considering the proposal. There would be a maximum of eight homeless people allowed.

Transitional Pastor Rob Burdette is discussing it with the congregation, coalition and neighbors. He told CBS4 "My feeling personally this is an opportunity to help the homeless situation in crisis in Denver."

(credit: CBS)

But in the La Alma neighborhood there is much opposition, particularly with those who live close to schools. Teresa Casteneda heads the neighborhood watch program and sees problems related to the homeless there.

(credit: CBS)

"Stealing bikes, breaking and entering into homes, there was a sexual attempt on a minor by a homeless man and attempted murder," she said.

One resident recorded drug use, bicycle thefts and other crimes they attribute to the homeless.

First Mennonite Church
First Mennonite Church (credit: CBS)

The First Mennonite Church has been meeting with members of ASAP, the neighbors and its own congregation to decide whether to accept the proposal for the homeless to stay on its property.

"Every person living on the street deserves dignity," Henderson told CBS4 said. She said they want to build relationships with the neighbors.

Henderson says they are working to overturn the ban on urban camping in Denver. She said churches are allowed to house whoever they want and camp on their private property under the Religious Use Act. She said churches have used sanctuary laws in the past to house people in need of help.

Henderson said the homeless should not be automatically associated with crime. She told CBS4 people should let go of stereotypes, that this is a life-and-death issue.

CBS4's Rick Sallinger is a Peabody award winning reporter who has been with the station more than two decades doing hard news and investigative reporting. Follow him on Twitter @ricksallinger.

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