The Denison United Church of Christ (UCC), which has been operating as an overflow homeless shelter in partnership with the Metanoia Project on the city's west side, has issued a statement in response to the City of Cleveland and its recent code-enforcement actions.
Pastor Nozomi Ikuta said that the church is in the process of appealing both a Cease Use notice, which was taped to the door
of the church by the fire department on Christmas Eve, and a Dec. 20 Building and Housing notice. The cease use letter said that the church would have to change its official use — currently as a house of worship and assembly — if it planned on continuing to provide shelter to those most in need.
On Dec. 26, the city released a statement outlining a chronology of events and noting that if Denison UCC were to apply for a temporary residential use (R1) permit with the Dept. of Building and Housing, it would not affect its operations as a worship space.
Despite these attempts to paint the controversy as a standard dispute that adhered to a standard schedule, the yuletide code-enforcement flanking maneuvers created the impression that the city — presumably at the behest of Councilwoman Dona Brady — was trying to shut down the shelter. The efforts would be directly in keeping with a rich tradition
of anti-homelessness tactics in Cleveland.
The church's statement Monday thanked community members for their outpouring of support and asserted its legal right to shelter the city's most vulnerable.
"Our partnership with the Metanoia Project is a protected and essential expression of our faith," the statement read, "and we remain committed to fulfilling that mission while ensuring the safety of those whom God calls us to serve."
Further, the statement called on city leaders to work with the faith and nonprofit communities to safeguard those experiencing homelessness during the winter months. "We renew our request that the City of Cleveland work to put in place an effective and compassionate long-term cold weather plan that honors the safety, dignity, and value of every child of God."
The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) has reported that more than 500 concerned residents have sent letters to City Hall expressing support for Denison UCC's operations as a shelter and said that it had received commitments from Councilmen Basheer Jones, Kerry McCormack and Matt Zone to discuss a cold-weather plan.
In response to a News Channel 5 story
on the subject, NEOCH posted on Twitter that Metanoia's partnership with St. Malachi Church and Denison UCC was, in fact, an existing cold-weather plan. If council members were truly interested in supporting a "compassionate and effective" plan, the easiest thing to do would be to support the work of Denison UCC, and to work with them (not against them) to ensure that the facilities were safe and sound.
In the meantime, Denison UCC's website
now has images of the city's cease use notice on its landing page. "Merry Christmas from the City of Cleveland," the site's text reads. Several of those following the story have made monetary donations to the Metanoia Project "in honor of Councilwoman Dona Brady.
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