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With talk of low-income housing, neighbors turn against church suing Colorado town over homeless sheltering

Neighbors turn against church suing Castle Rock over homeless sheltering
Neighbors turn against church suing Castle Rock over homeless sheltering 02:37

As a Colorado church becomes more outspoken in plans to help the homeless, a legal battle is brewing in federal court and now neighbors are turning against the church.

"In Proverbs, it says your neighbors should dwell securely next to you, well, we don't feel secure now," neighbor Tim DeVries said.

The Rock Church provided temporary shelter to the homeless in two RVs behind the church until the Town of Castle Rock stopped them in December, calling it a zoning violation.

"As a church, it's not optional. It's actually a mandate from the Bible that we would shelter the homeless, take care of the poor, feed the hungry," said Mike Polhemus, pastor at The Rock Church.

The church brought a federal lawsuit against the town, alleging Castle Rock is violating the church's right to religious freedom.

"What about my freedom? What about the respect for our zoning laws?" asked DeVries.

Now the town is not the church's only adversary.

"A majority of the community is against it for many reasons," said neighbor Debby Pattison.

The divide with neighbors has been exacerbated by the church's efforts to create low-income workforce housing, separate from the RVs, on their land. Polhemus says there is a critical need for affordable housing in Douglas County.

"I don't want this here in our neighborhood. This is our neighborhood, this is our home, this is our family, our community," said Pattison.

Neighbors worry about impacts on their property values and neighborhood safety.

"We know with that brings in more crime. We've got lots of kids here and the church has been very deceptive through the whole process, they haven't been forthright at all," said DeVries.

The church held a community meeting on the plan, but many neighbors still don't feel heard and are distrustful of the church.

"One of my neighbors that went with me, she tried asking a question and never got an answer. She was wondering if they were going to make a profit off of developing housing," said Pattison, who attended the meeting.

Polhemus shared the following comment regarding concerns about profit motivating the church's actions:

"The Rock is a non-profit organization. The intent is not for profit, but to meet needs. This community project will require a significant cash outlay/cost to build the homes. Hoping for a break-even or some profit to cover operations of the homes and additional funds for financial assistance to meet additional needs of the community. If people in our community think that our church is doing this so that the church leadership can 'get rich,' then I believe they misunderstand our mission. Our church has given away millions of dollars in funds, food, clothes, utility assistance, rental and mortgage assistance, etc. over the past 20+ years."

Neighbors also say the location doesn't make sense for this kind of housing.

"This is the middle of a neighborhood with million-dollar homes surrounding it and this is not the place for that infrastructure," said Pattison.

The church has not yet submitted a site plan to the town, and now they've hit a roadblock: Polhemus says the Douglas County Housing Partnership pulled out of the housing plan. He believes it's the result of pressure from the town.

Castle Rock said it can't comment on these allegations as the lawsuit is ongoing and Douglas County did not respond to a request for comment.

Castle Rock has until Wednesday to respond to a motion for preliminary injunction filed by the church. The motion seeks to allow the church to continue sheltering people in the RVs as the lawsuit plays out.

Soon the court will issue a ruling on the injunction or set a hearing date.

As the lawsuit moves forward, the housing plan is on hold until the church can find another partner. Neighbors hope that doesn't happen.

"This is not what this neighborhood is about," said DeVries. "I mean, who wants a homeless camp behind your community?"

Polhemus says he hopes the winds change and nearby residents "get past the 'not in my backyard' mentality."

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