NJ church told it’s not allowed to take in the homeless from the cold
PALISADES PARK — A Roman Catholic church in this Bergen County borough has been ordered to stop housing homeless people in its basement.
The edict came Wednesday, a week after one of the homeless men who had been given shelter at St. Michael's Church was found dead. The cause of the unnamed 34-year-old man's death was not known Wednesday, but officials did not believe it was suspicious.
Borough Administrator David Lorenzo said church officials could no longer continue to offer shelter because of zoning and permit rules.
"We can't look the other way," Lorenzo was quoted as saying by NJ.com, which reported about the church on Wednesday. "You just can't do that. It's illegal."
Parish priest Minhyun Cho told NJ.com that he had started allowing the immigrant day laborers to spend their nights in the church basement this month because they had nowhere else to go — and the temperatures outside had dropped to below freezing.
Now they'll have to find somewhere else to keep warm.
A person who answered the phone at St. Michael's on Wednesday said Cho was no longer giving interviews. A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Newark declined to comment.
Lorenzo did not return a call for comment.
The church becomes the latest good Samaritan to run afoul of laws restricting the ways people can help the needy.
It also comes at a time when the state of New Jersey has reduced the amount of help provided to struggling families.
Some of the regulations are based on concerns for the health and safety of those receiving the charity, but other rules and prohibitions are backed by worries that the charity will attract undesirable people to certain neighborhoods, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless.
The advocacy group's 2014 report noted that "food-sharing programs often represent the only way some homeless individuals will have access to healthy safe food on a given day."
But in New Jersey, officials in Newark are considering cracking down on organizations and people who regularly hand out free food to the needy. The city has a 1966 law still on the books requiring any organization that wants to hand out food to obtain a permit first.
And while the groups donating the prepared meals have managed to work out their own logistics, the city's health director is proposing a new bureaucratic solution that would include a marketing campaign to inform the public about their options if they want to feed the homeless.
New Brunswick last year had to revise its ban on panhandling after a lawsuit challenged it on First Amendment grounds. Now the law doesn't ban begging outright, but makes "aggressive" or threatening begging illegal.
In 2014, state and local officials bulldozed a "tent city" in Camden and threw the whatever few belongings that the homeless possessed into the trash.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-438-1015 or email email@example.com.