Sex Offender Fears Force Church to Close Homeless Shelter

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(Photo: WTVR6 Screenshot)Reverend Tyrone Nelson at Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church said that concerns about sex offenders coming in contact with children led the church to end its homeless shelter program.

A Virginia church will close its homeless shelter this fall due to fears that the site was housing sex offenders.

"This was a rough decision for us because we looked at the overflow shelters as an extension of our ministry," Reverend Tyrone Nelson, who pastors Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church, told WTVR News.

Nelson added that it appeared that sex offenders were not only spending the night at the church but that they were "actually using our address. They were using the shelter and probably had been using the shelter on and off for a few years."

Nelson explained that one of the church's hallways could have allowed the sex offenders staying at the homeless shelter to come into contact with children.

"We always thought, never let the kids go to the restroom alone. So if the kids left the restroom, left the Bible study area, went to the bathroom, then they would take an adult with them," said Nelson.

Mount Zion Baptist opted not to renew its homeless shelter contract with the city when the church's insurance company informed the church that sex offenders would be considered a liability.

The church's decision has now put the onus on the city of Richmond to find another location for the homeless, who will no longer be served by Mount Zion Baptist.

Unfortunately, the current building that city officials have identified is a 50-year-old Public Safety Building that is not up to code and currently being used for other purposes.

Richmond City Council President Charles Samuels said there would be a substantial fee involved in making the building ready for overnight visitors.

"It's going to take around $5,000 to get it to a level that's appropriate for people to sleep in there overnight," said Samuels.

Back in 2005 when the Public Safety Building was used by the city's judicial staff, a Richmond judge sued the city, arguing that the building suffered from hazardous and unsafe conditions. Judges and staffers were subsequently moved into another building.