Pastor Melvin Navarro says the City of Lorain, Ohio, where he runs his Healing Wings International Ministries, denied his church a permit because it would attract the homeless, but the mayor disputes the claim.
“I believe it’s almost unconstitutional to tell a church ‘you cannot have church in your own building,’” Navarro told 19 News.
The pastor who runs the ministry with his wife Angelina, told the news outlet that the city’s mayor, Joseph Kozuira, told him that his application to hold formal worship services in his building was denied because city officials believe organizations such as churches and charities attract homeless people to the city.
“Homelessness is a big problem in the city,” Navarro said. “They don’t want any homeless, and therefore they don’t want anymore churches or charitable organizations.”
A part of Navarro’s ministry is Joseph’s Corner Outreach, which, according to the organization’s description on Facebook, is focused on meeting community needs by providing a place for “morale, welfare and recreation for the community of Lorain.”
In a fundraiser for the property last month the veteran explained that he was trying to renovate his property in order to house the homeless in the winter.
“We are continually raising funds to finish working on Joseph's Corner Community Outreach and Healing Wings Ministry Center before the winter comes. Funds have come in, but very slowly. We would love to speed up the process so that we can pass inspection for Joseph's Corner and have a place set up to keep the homeless warm this winter!” he and his wife noted.
Navarro, who along with his wife are both veterans, said they relocated their ministry to their current location about a year ago. The city’s fire chief has approved an operations permit. At his old location, the pastor said they were approved to operate as a church but did not get an operations permit to provide other services.
He said because the current location of his ministry previously served as a church, he didn’t imagine he would have any problems getting approved to hold formal worship services.
“I was told you shouldn’t have a problem because this was a church before,” he explained. “So I went ahead and applied, confident that we would be approved to be a church, and I was denied.”
Mayor Koziura told The Christian Post in a Monday interview, however, that the city’s zoning board turned down Pastor Navarro’s application because the building was in poor condition.
“The building is in very bad shape and I think that’s why the zoning board did that because the building is not a real good building. This thing has been closed probably 30 years,” he said. “… The city was looking at condemning [it]. So when he went to the board the board voted it down. I had nothing to do with that.”
Koziura said when Navarro approached him about the situation he suggested that he could appeal the decision of the zoning board.
“When he talked to me about it I told him that the next step for him would be, he would have to appeal to the Court of Common Pleas,” the mayor said.
He explained that Lorain, which currently has a population of 64,097, was once an “industrial powerhouse” city with enough jobs to take care of everyone but things have changed.
“Over the years now Lorain is an older community. Many people have left because of job opportunities to go to other places,” he said.
The city, he noted, still seeks to care for its vulnerable populations but they also cannot afford more homeless folk who have been coming to the state of Ohio from other parts of the country.
“The State of Ohio has appropriated $100 million to people to open up facilities. So we have people recruiting people from out of our city. We have people here from Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi,” Koziura said. “When we asked them ‘what are you doing here’ we’re told ‘this is the place to come for programs.’”
He continued: “As far as Lorain goes, Lorain has been a city that has always reached out and helped people. We have the Valor Home which takes care of Homeless veterans, we have Catholic Charities who relocated from one area to a bigger place on 28th street. We have many programs. In fact, everything seems to be directed to older cities like ours and other cities. The policies of this country have really caused problems for everybody else. This president [Donald Trump] who doesn’t care about anybody but himself and other people who are in the same wealth [bracket] as he is.”
He said government’s main role is to take care of people but “when we’ve got this situation in Washington with this idiot as president, I am so upset ... I’m a Vietnam veteran, I served in Vietnam, for 50 years of government ... I just hope we don’t re-elect this bimbo.”
Koziura explained that the city also has more than enough church buildings, some of which are up for sale. He said he encouraged Navarro to seek to use one of those available church buildings for his work.
He further noted that there are also existing complaints about the presence of too many homeless people from residents in the neighborhood where Navarro wants to start his church.
“This is not a real rich neighborhood. This is working people who live in homes that are valued about $40,000 or so,” he said. “They are all up in arms because we have this homeless Catholic Charities center in their community,” he said.
“Not everybody is excited about having these facilities. You don’t see these places in suburbs … probably wealthy white suburbs. They deny these facilities in their communities,” he said.
“Everybody calls on poor communities, Lorain, Ohio, wondering why you don’t want more poor. I don’t question the reverend’s motive but it has nothing to do with other than the board turned it down, I’m assuming because of the condition of the property,” Koziura insisted.
Navarro and his wife are not giving up. They were once very close to being homeless and know what it is like to struggle.
“We struggled, we fell behind on our bills,” Angelina recalled about a time when her husband got laid off. “We were almost evicted.”
“I told my husband, 'we have this big facility here, we have to do something,’” Angelina said.
The couple noted that in the last year, many of the homeless have helped them to renovate the facility they hope they will one day be able to use for worship.
“They helped put up the drop ceilings, they weren’t just sitting here doing nothing. They were being proactive,” Angelina said.
As a result of their work with the ministry, many of the homeless have gone on to find jobs.
“My husband connected them with some people. Some of them moved on to get apartments,” she said.
Now she’s hoping that they will be able to have formal worship services in their new space soon too.