A church in Ventura is feeding the homeless and helping them get back on their feet. It's something you would expect a church to do. But what if it's right in the middle of a residential neighborhood? How would you react to that?
Residents of the Lemon Grove community in Ventura say they used to have a nice, peaceful neighborhood. Now, they describe it as an unsafe place to live. "There's been a whole slew of things that our children shouldn't be exposed to, it's putting them in reckless endangerment," said Heather Morrissette.
Suzannah Underwood says, "It brought vagrancy and we were quite shocked how suddenly this was upon us." According to the residents, ever since The Harbor Community church started feeding the homeless, they find drugs, needles and people passed out on their front lawns. Jason Benites says, "We've actually recently had a rash of residential burglaries in our neighborhood that has significantly impacted the feeling of safety."
Dave Christensen, one of the Pastor's at the Harbor Community Church says it's their religious right to feed the homeless. He says it's what Jesus would do. Christensen denies the allegations made by the residents and says this is a typical situation of not in my backyard. The residents want the church to stop feeding the homeless or move away to a different location away from a residential area. Neighbor Jim Calhoun says, "Stop serving the homeless in our neighborhood and start somewhere else in a commercial zone."
Matt Bowman adds, "We are not against the homeless. We are against the location where the services are being provided."
The residents feel the City of Ventura needs to do something about this issue but so far,nothing has been done. They say the church has been feeding the homeless since 2009.
City of Ventura issued the following statement:
The City of Ventura is sensitive to the neighborhood concerns. Ventura city staff, City Manager, Community Development Director and Police Chief are working collaboratively with the neighbors, property owner and social-service agencies to find a balance of providing assistance to those in need with protecting our neighborhoods.
Ventura places a high priority on public safety and quality of life. One thing we all agree on is that this is not the ideal location for this use. We believe working together, we will find the solution to minimize the impacts of this service provider on the surrounding neighborhood.
On October 9, the City of Ventura's Planning Commission will meet again on this issue, and make their decision with a motion of intent.