Homeless shelter cited for improper zoning

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Pastor Harold Bare is excited. A couple of Sundays ago, he had a young man and woman stand up in church and announce that they were getting married. “It was a grand moment for them,” the Pentecostal preacher says. Just as significant, the two are also getting an apartment and going off of his dime. For the last few months, the couple has been among 30 to 40 homeless men, women and children Bare has housed in the Hope Community Center on 11th Street NW.


Josh Bare helps his father, Pastor Harold Bare, run a shelter for the homeless at the Hope Community Center on 11th Street NW.
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Pastor of Covenant Church (which is unrelated to The Covenant School), Bare contracted with a woman named Mary Washington and COMPASS last fall to provide shelter to those with nowhere to go. And like the now defunct COMPASS, Bare is looking down the barrel of city Zoning Inspector Read Brodhead, who notified them by phone, personal visit and letter that they must immediately shut down.

“It is not a permitted use in a residential zone,” Brodhead says, “so we’ve informed them of that.”

COMPASS originally won city approval for a homeless day shelter on E. Market Street, but internal disputes pushed COMPASS out of the project. The group opted to set up a series of homeless shelters without city approval, and each was shut down for zoning violations. Like COMPASS, Hope’s leaders failed to get the city’s O.K. first.

“They let their compassion override their logic,” says Brodhead.

Hope is taking the position that because it is a church, they are excluded from normal zoning. This is pure fallacy, according to Brodhead. “That would be like a church opening a restaurant or a retail store,” he says.

In its initial incarnation, Hope was spartan in its offerings. Hot dogs were the main course and people slept on the floor. But four months later, there is macaroni salad, ham biscuits, Bible study, computer classes, and, most notably, fold-up blue cots.

“That’s one of the first things I focused on,” says Josh, Pastor Bare’s son. He was only recently studying for an MBA at Regent University—Pat Robertson’s school in Virginia Beach—but when he returned to the area in December, he stepped into the void left by the demise of COMPASS and the sudden absence of Washington.

With a businessman’s sense and a minister’s heart, Josh has taken charge of the Hope Community Center, both improving the living and food arrangements while trying to keep the costs down. The result is a place that almost feels like home.

“We want the people to feel comfortable,” Josh says. At 8:45pm, some men are already in bed in the small gym as a chaplain preaches of the wages of sin in the foyer, while outside the glass walls, people smoke in defiance or just for something to do. Soon, they will be back out on the streets, just like those who stay at PACEM, which will stop providing shelter March 14.

Unlike PACEM, Hope would like to stay open year round, but according to Josh, time is not the only thing running out. So far, the shelter has relied on the goodwill of his father, but that has its limits. The Bares have a solution if they could only figure out what happened to the grants COMPASS had to return. One of those was for $10,000 from Bama Works.

For now, the Bares must appeal to the city Board of Zoning Appeals on March 20. Until then, the city has granted Hope a temporary reprieve.

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