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Dad’s Place in Ohio Once Again Facing Criminal Charges for Sheltering Homeless

The church had reached an agreement, but the city has brought charges again.

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An Ohio pastor who has been sheltering homeless individuals at his church has once again been served with criminal charges.

Dad’s Place Pastor Chris Avell has kept his church doors open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week since this past winter. On New Year’s Eve, the city of Bryan charged him with 18 counts for zoning violations because he opened the first floor of the church in a business district to allow homeless people to escape the cold.

Then, in January 2024, the federal district court “issued a clear and unambiguous Order forbidding [the city] from enforcing any alleged violations of the City’s zoning or fire codes without the court’s approval or the church’s agreement,” according to First Liberty Institute, a public interest law firm that defends religious liberty and is representing Avell.

In February, the city dropped the charges, and in return First Liberty and Avell agreed to cancel the preliminary injunction hearing originally scheduled for March 4. Additionally, the church says it has addressed many of the alleged safety concerns raised by the city.

But now, First Liberty has filed a motion asking the court to hold a hearing for the city to show cause why it should not be held in contempt for failing to comply with the court order.

Dad’s Place faces the threat of a $1,000 per day fine if it does not cease its 24-hour ministry by May 1, 2024, the court documents state.

The attorneys for the city and the church met on April 25 to try to resolve their differences, but were unable to do so, “leaving the Church no option but to seek this emergency relief,” the motion reads.

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“Mayor Schlade and city officials demonstrated once again that they have no respect for the First Amendment or for the court,” Jeremy Dys, senior counsel for First Liberty, said in a press statement. “The city’s blatant hostility toward Dad’s Place and the court is repugnant.”

One congregant, who preferred staying at Dad’s Place due to a medical condition causing him to suffer seizures that made him afraid to be alone, has been irreversibly impacted.

Because of pressure from the city, the church asked him to relocate to an apartment, the press statement said. On April 12, he died after suffering from a seizure episode while staying alone at the apartment.

When MinistryWatch reached out, the Bryan city prosecutor’s office did not wish to make any comment, except to state that charges have been filed and it is an open, active case.

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Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts is a freelance writer who holds a Juris Doctorate from Baylor University. She has home schooled her three children and is happily married to her husband of 25 years.