Arizona Church Ordered to Stop Feeding Homeless

A judge ordered a Phoenix church to stop feeding the homeless on its property, citing zoning violation.

Retired Arizona Supreme Court Justice Robert Corcoran ruled in early November that CrossRoads United Methodist Church in north Phoenix was functioning as a charity dining hall in a residential neighborhood.

CrossRoads, however, argues that it is not violating city ordinance because it is feeding the homeless as a ministry of the church and not as a dining hall. Once a week, the Methodist Church offers the homeless and the poor in the neighborhood a pancake breakfast before Saturday worship service.

Church officials decided to appeal the ruling last week.

"We must stand together with those of us who are suffering and for other ministries and churches on whom this decision will have a great impact," said the Rev. Dottie Escobedo-Frank, senior pastor of CrossRoads, to the United Methodist News Service. "We just can't stop caring for and feeding those who need us most."

The church has a 50-year history of feeding the homeless and caring for the poor in the community.

But it was the very members of the community that raised concern about the church's feeding ministry. Some residents complained about the homeless people wandering around the neighborhood, bringing trash to the area and cited fear of increased crime due to their presence.

"They broke into electric boxes and had their bikes and things chained up to fences, and set up camp right in our back yard," said Talitha Cerino, who lives nearby, to the ABC News station in Phoenix.

"I don't necessarily know that I would want to be walking down Central on a Saturday morning to see a parade of homeless individuals riding their bikes to get to their free meal in the morning," Cerino said.

More than 100 people come each week for the pancake breakfast and service program.

The judge's ruling is effective immediately and affects all Phoenix churches with residential zoning. There are at least 20 other Phoenix churches that provide food to the homeless and poor as part of their worship programs.

"This decision affects all faith communities, and ultimately, it changes the nature of our society," commented Escobedo-Frank. "If we don't feed them, who will?"

The appeal hearing for the case is set for Dec. 14.