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Brookings ordinance places restrictions on churches serving food to homeless people

After neighbors complained about a church's soup kitchen, the city told churches they could only offer meals twice a week. One pastor said he won't comply.
Credit: St. Thomas Episcopal Church

BROOKINGS, Ore. — It's no secret Portland has a homeless crisis, but the crisis has touched all corners of the state, including the small town of Brookings on the southern Oregon coast. 

A number of church leaders there teamed up to feed homeless individuals and others needing a meal, with a different church offering a meal each day of the week. Eventually, some churches started to struggle and couldn't keep up with demand. People got scared to be around strangers during the pandemic. 

As other churches dropped out, St. Timothy's picked up the slack, expanding their soup kitchen from two days a week to four — sometimes even six days a week — to meet the skyrocketing need.

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Rev. Bernie Lindley said anywhere from 50 to 70 people showed up.

However, people living near the church took notice of increased trespassing and crime. After submitting a letter signed by more than two dozen neighbors to the city council, the group testified to the city council in a work group back in June. 

"Some of the things I've listened to in this meeting, 'love thy neighbor' was one of the things I found interesting especially since I took a petition around the neighborhood and about 90 percent were against what's going on at St. Timothy's Church. I don't know how that falls under 'love thy neighbor,'" neighbor Brandon Usry said. "I'm here today to save my house. This is a public health concern, it's a safety concern for the public. We're not trying to solve the national crisis of homelessness here in Brookings."

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"Things have been stolen from my backyard, I've had to put fences up, it's the drug use is what makes it uneasy ... I literally have to go on a walk every night just to make sure no one's gonna be coming onto my property," another neighbor, Blake Peters, said. 

Nearly five months later, the city council voted unanimously to pass a new ordinance. Churches in Brookings can only offer food to homeless people two days a week.

"How do you tell a church they can't feed people? Isn't that what churches are supposed to do? Our diocese and the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon, our churches feed people, that's instrumental in the way that we serve God and serve God's people," Rev. Lindley said. 

He added his church is trying to do everything it can to work with neighbors and with the city.

KGW reached out to various members of Brookings city government Friday, but it's closed Fridays.

In the meantime, Rev. Lindley said he refuses to cut food service back to two days a week. He said if the city wants to fine him, go for it. He said he's prepared to sue, because he says the homeless population in Brookings is growing. 

"We're seeing the overflow, I guess people are coming into the rural areas now," he said. "One of the concerns about that people share people in the community, they say, 'You're going to turn Brookings into another Portland and there's going to be all these people living alongside the freeway, in tents, and it's going to be a disaster. And, unfortunately that is the consequence of the high cost of housing and all the instability that was created by the pandemic. The fact that we have very little in the way of mental health services or addiction services, you know, the inpatient treatment centers are not easy to come by."