GASTONIA, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — If you walk through the four acres of grounds at Faith, Hope, and Love Community Enrichment Ministries, you will see tents, makeshift houses made out of tarps that house individuals who have nowhere else to stay; you will also find Pastor Moses Colbert in the middle of a tent repair for someone, or explanation of what will be on the dinner menu later in the evening.
This is a common occurrence at 418 N. Oakland Street, but the site of the pastor’s ministry has not only been controversial but has turned into a violation of city ordinance.
In May, Gastonia city leaders filed a lawsuit against the pastor’s ministry, after it failed to pay $60,000 in fines for city violations for its help of more than one hundred homeless people.
The city discovered that the trailers Pastor Moses had set up to use for education classes for those homeless individuals, were not strapped down and illegally parked.
It was also noted that his church was not zoned properly to be a homeless shelter/camp site therefore it cannot operate as one.
In June Queen City News asked city liaisons to explain the violations.
In an e-mail, they said, in part:
“Mr. Colbert has received numerous notifications that he is not permitted to operate a homeless shelter at his current location . . . his location is not zoned for a homeless shelter. Mr. Colbert is free to feed the homeless, conduct classes, etc., during daylight hours, but he is not allowed to provide overnight accommodations. . . neither safe nor suitable to be used as a homeless shelter.”
They also said the city had received “numerous complaints” about the trailers which were placed on his property for education classes.
City says church’s shelter is a repeat offender
The site has also begun to face questions over safety, with first responders being called to 418 N. Oakland St. more than 300 times in one year.
Pastor Moses went further and explained there are multiple instances of substance abuse on-site that have led to deaths.
However, he explained that he has certified individuals who have begun to help address substance abuse in the community.
Supporters of the church have also said it’s a reflection of the city’s failure to address mental health and addiction in people, and not the church’s inability to fully address health issues.
Pastor Moses has stated, multiple times that he has tried to get help from the city to zone his location to operate as a homeless shelter. “Stop demonizing this ministry,” Colbert said, seeking to acquire the continuum of care. “Let us be a part of the COC again. It looks like you’re discriminating against me, but it’s these people bearing the brunt of it.”
While he continues to wait for a response from the city on help, Pastor Moses and his ministry has begun work to get the site up to code quickly.
“We’re going to clear all of this out, so they can have a clean place to stay in here,” the pastor said in relation to a patch of overgrown grass next to a series of tents where people slept.
“A lot of them, their morals down a bit, because they think they’re going to have to move. We’re hoping they’ll continue to have a place to live.”
Trailers first step, more improvements needed
Monday afternoon, professional contractors arrived at the church site and moved the two trailers on cinderblocks, and placed metal straps on them which were drilled into the ground.
“The easy thing would’ve just been to just move the trailers, and get them out of here, and then they wouldn’t have a leg to stand on,” the minister explained. “We don’t want to do the easy thing, we want to do the right thing. We need those trailers for education.”
His improvements, however, had reached a standstill.
He needs to add steps and a ramp for the physically disabled but can’t until the current status of the trailers is assessed.
“We’ve got to get the county to come out and give us the right to get the inspection so we can get the steps and the ramps on there,” he said. “That means we need to get a foundation inspection in order to do that.”
A stance he and other faith leaders in the community have taken is “We are called to help our neighbors.”
Pastor Moses goes beyond that and said if his church and site is torn down or taken away then it will force these 100 or so people back into the community.
He said, “These are not bad people, they are going to do whatever they got to do to survive. So why don’t we do what we got to do in order to keep them sane, safe, and [in] the right frame of mind so we don’t have to go that far with it.”
The future of the church remains in limbo, as its case is set to be heard by a Superior Judge in Gaston County on August 7, who could rule on, not only the site itself but the status of the fines that have piled up against the church.