Clergy members, Alhambra residents, and press packed City Hall on Monday night in support of efforts to shelter homeless families in a local church.
First Baptist Church has disagreed with the City over whether it has the right to host the Family Promises program, which offers resources and temporary housing to homeless families.
Several members of the community, including two attorneys representing Family Promises, went up to before the Council to speak about why they felt it was so important that the City should help them. "First Baptist has an unequivocal First Amendment right to participate in the Family Promise program. Case law is clear," Family Promise attorney Beth Gordie said. "There is a constitutional right for a church to provide housing to homeless families as an accessory use of the church."
City officials responded that the church, which is located at 101 South Atlantic Boulevard, is not situated in an area meant for emergency shelters and does not meet fire and safety regulations to house people overnight. "We support your program 200 percent. There is not one of you that made a comment we don't agree with," said Mayor Barbara Messina. "But you have to appreciate our position when our fire chief tells us we have codes that aren't being adhered to and we have a legal counsel and we have an obligation to follow his direction."
City Manager Julio Fuentes commended First Baptist for its efforts to aid homeless families in Alhambra, though he pointed out that a proper dialogue was necessary to take any further steps. "Even though there are a lot of good people here tonight in support of this, there are other people in the community who may not share that feeling," he said. "There has to be an ability to compromise and work through this."
"They are playing the same old game. They are trying to pigeon-hole us into being a brick and mortar shelter but that's not what we do," President of the Family Promise Board Karen Roberson told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune. Mayor Messina and Councilman Luis Ayala requested that a public hearing on the matter be placed on the schedule as a future agenda item.