LONG BEACH - It's become something of an annual rite of winter. The temperatures drop and homeless residents bed down near the First Congregational Church in downtown Long Beach.

Yes indeed, this church has been "allowing" the homeless to sleep on their church steps for three years now. How utterly Christian charitable of them!

For each of the last two years, the city has warned the church at 241 Cedar Ave. that it is a violation of municipal and penal codes to allow the homeless to camp out on church property and asked it to "abate the nuisance" or face the possibility of daily fines of up to $1,000 per day.

Last year, the church acquiesced.

Whoah, a little threat of a fine scared you did it? The city tells you that you are defying city ordinances by committing this public nuisance, so rather than invite these "least among you" in to the "house of the Lord" and have your parishioners set up DOABLE shelter for them, such as the rotating program in my own hometown of Whittier, you cower to the cities demands and chase them away. Please correct me if I am wrong, but this is what I understand to be true from this statement, "the church ascuiesced"

This year, however, Rev. Jerry Stinson has decided he will not comply, arguing the city is trying to abridge the church's ability to fulfill its mission and practice its faith.

Your faith teaches you to have the homeless sleep in the cold on your doorstep?


"The real issue isn't the homeless; it's a state and church issue," Stinson says. "Administering to the homeless is a vital part of our religion."

So whose corner is this problem in Reverand Stimson? You say it's your right under "separation of church and state" to create a public spectacle out of the homeless, USING THEM to try to shame the city for not providing proper shelter, While YOU ARE NOT PROVIDING PROPER SHELTER. I sense a major dose of hypocracy here.

The furor has surprised Sayge Castillo, the deputy city prosecutor charged with handling neighborhood issues downtown. It was Castillo who issued the letter Dec. 4 ordering removal of the homeless.

She said the intent of such letters, which she says are essentially form letters, is to start negotiations.

"Whether it's a church, a Burger King or an apartment building, we'll send a letter to initiate a dialogue so we can talk about solutions," Castillo said.

The prosecutor in this case has absolutely nothing to do with providing shelter to the homeless in this case. She is doing one thing and one thing only, informing the church that they are violating city ordinances by their actions. PERIOD. She is acting in this capacity and this capacity alone.

For Stinson, however, the letter hit a nerve.

In a response, Stinson wrote the prosecutor had "chosen to attack our church for showing compassion toward some of the homeless men and women who live in downtown Long Beach."

"SHOWING COMPASSION"?!! I hope to God the reverand, any of his congregation or loved ones don't end up homeless and get offered CHURCH STEPS!!

Castillo said her office did not set out on its own to single out the church.

"We're complaint-driven," Castillo said, adding the action was not aimed at the church or the homeless but what she called "residual effects" from the encampment, including human waste, litter and other health and safety issues. The complaints to Castillo have been from anonymous sources and the Long Beach Police Department, she said.

Anonymous sources and the police? Hm. The "residual effects" ARE legitimate concern. If the Reverand's plumbing were to go out on him and he used the church grounds for defecating wouldn't it be ironic if someone called the police on him?!!

"I didn't intend for this to be about homeless people," Castillo said. "I'm trying to make things better for everyone."

Stinson is not convinced. He says there have been no crimes committed on church property and that custodians clean the area daily. He added he is willing to discuss installing portable toilets in an unobtrusive location on church property.

"Willing to discuss installing portable toilets?" UNBELIEVABLE. He offers them the cold steps and the opportunity to pee in the bushes. SHAME SHAME SHAME!!

However, he doesn't plan to stop allowing the homeless to camp out.

The church has a history of working with the homeless and the poor downtown.

You have a history? Please expand on this statement dear Reverand. Nowhere have you mentioned churches actively involved in providing INDOOR shelter. Instead you have passed the buck off on the city. I DO believe it is the city's obligation to provide as much shelter as their budget will allow, but when that falls short, it is up to the Churches to PRACTICE WHAT THEY PREACH.

In 2004, the city's winter emergency homeless shelter was housed in the basement of the church. In past years, the church has also housed a "rainy day shelter" during inclement weather and each week the church hosts a Sunday drop-in center and feeding that 150 to 400 homeless attend.

Please explain what has happened since 2004. It's good to feed people on Sundays, what do they eat the rest of the week? Sort of like those big Thanksgiving and Christmas spectacles all the Hollywood people and local dignitaries show up at to be seen doing their "charitable duty" WHERE IS THE SHARING OF THE RESPONSIBILITY with other churches in the neighborhood? Or is this merely grandstanding on this churches part.

Parishioners at the church back Stinson. On Jan. 7, Stinson delivered a sermon about the issue in which he vowed to fight the city and was greeted with a standing ovation, according to the church secretary.

I suggest the parishioners sleep on the church steps WITH the homeless, rather than giving their standing ovation from INSIDE a warm comfy church for an hour on Sunday. When these parisioners "walk in their shoes" themselves, let us all know what the outcome is.

"I think (Stinson's) response was excellent," said parishioner Janet Rhodes, who also directs the weekly drop-in center.

Thank you Janet for dedicating your Sunday's to feeding the homeless. This is truly an act of charity on your part, sincerely it is. But have you slept on any church steps lately?

"This is not something he is doing on his own," parishioner Dr. Robert Kalayjian said. "The church is fully supportive."

Rhodes said her interactions with the homeless are generally positive.

Please explain what "generally positive" is. Does this mean the homeless you feed and interact with are polite and thankful to you? What happens when you have a "negative" encounter, say with a mentally ill homeless person? And believe me, the numbers are staggering concerning the percentage of the homeless who are mentally ill. They are either mentally ill FIRST and end up on the streets due to lack of services and the law stating only those who are a threat to self or others (and believe me, this is a USELESS empty law meant to deny services) may be hospitilized , OR they become mentally ill after being on the streets for a prolonged period of time. Try it Janet, see how long you last.

"I go by (the church) on my way to work in the morning and you don't even know they're there," Rhodes said. "The last thing they want to do is bring attention to themselves."

How quaint, you don't even know they are there!!

Rhodes said the city doesn't provide enough shelter for the homeless and shouldn't attack the church for its failures.

Failures? You are allowing the homeless to sleep on your steps, AGAINST CITY ORDINANCES and claiming it is your Christian duty. GIVE ME A BREAK!

On any given night in Long Beach, the homeless population can range between 4,500 and 6,000, about 68 percent of whom are on the streets, either by choice or circumstance.

Long Beach is not alone in this problem, please read "Homelessness in America"

In December, the Long Beach Rescue Mission opened a winter emergency shelter with 200 beds. To date it has not reached capacity.

Stinson and parishioners say many of the 15 to 20 homeless who congregate outside the church are working poor who are unable to get to the winter shelter before it closes its doors in the early evening.

Again, GIVE ME A BREAK!! Have you ever thought of providing transportation for them to the shelter mentioned in the last paragraph rather than offering them your cold steps!

When asked if the church could allow the homeless inside evenings, Kalayjian said the church lacked the resources and supervision that would require.

Sorry, you're barking up the wrong tree with this statement. Please contact Whittier Area Coalition for the Homeless for some pointers. Even they are overwhelmed and having to screen their homeless. The problem of homelessness in almost EVERY community is beyond the scope of any one single entity. But together, these churches are opening their doors to the best of their capacity to offer WARM indoor facilties and DAILY food.

"We have a really hard time just to keep the drop-in center open once a week," Kalayjian said. "The church is still a church, not a shelter. We're really not equipped or staffed for (a shelter)."

Staffed? That would be your parisioners who would be doing this, putting their Christian duty where their cold steps presently are.

Meanwhile, the homeless who camp by the church, either on its steps or behind a small ornamental grate, are glad to have a place to stay.

Glad? That is because they are on private property and the property owner is not calling the police to remove them as other property owners do. How little these people expect and are greatful for, not to be arrested elsewhere and the luxury of COLD STEPS. Is no one else seeing something wrong with this picture?

"I think we're grateful they let us sleep here," said Michael Bryant, 32, who has occasionally stayed at the church since he became homeless seven months ago. "(The pastor) has never let us sleep inside, but he lets us stay out here. But the people living around here might want us out."

Michael, but for the grace of God go I.

Bryant said the people most affected by the conflict are those who for years have made their homes just outside the church's brick walls.


One is Manuel Enrique Cozletto, 39, who has been laying his bed on the church steps since October 2005.

According to Cozletto, residents near the church have showed him kindness - not hostility.

As he sat near the church Monday morning, Cozletto displayed some of the items residents have given him - clothes, a battery-operated radio and two white, fluffy pillows.

"People have been very supportive," he added. "They've brought me blankets, meals."

Somehow I still don't get it. This church is allowing them to sleep outside, like the family dog, but I bet the parisioners FEED THEIR DOGS!!! This is an utter disgrace to me. An utter disgrace!!

Castillo said she would be sending a second letter to Stinson in an effort to work out a suitable compromise.

"Maybe in the next two weeks we can meet and have a conversation," Castillo said.

When asked about the possible $1,000-a-day fines, which could be imposed dating back to when the first letter was dated, Castillo said it was unlikely they would be imposed.

Good thing for the Reverand, wouldn't want his salary to be interupted while he preaches the Gospel of Jesus, "that which you do unto the least of us, you do unto me"

"That's a worst-case scenario," Castillo said, adding that in her six months she has yet to impose fines.

Castillo wouldn't predict what might happen if an agreement isn't reached.

"I just want to get to the first step," Castillo said.

Kalayjian said he hopes the current conflict will help shed light on the plight of the homeless.

"This is an opportunity for the city to step up," Kalayjian said. "I see this as an opportunity to connect and see the homeless as people. If you acknowledge a person, that's a huge gift for them."

"A gift to them"?!!! Acknowledgement of human beings is EXPECTED of us as EQUAL children of our creator.

...I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Matthew 19:24.

Greg Mellen can be reached at greg.mellen@presstelegram.com or (562) 499-1291.

From 2004, "Illegal to be Homeless"

Long Beach, California

The police regularly ticket people for camping outdoors–clearly, those who cannot afford to pay, notes homeless advocate Mike Giard. Arrests and other ticketing sometimes occur as well. The ticketing activity definitely becomes more prevalent before and during the local Grand Prix races and other special events that take place.

Police conduct sweeps in parks where homeless people often congregate. During these sweeps, people are ticketed, told to move along, scared away, or arrested. There are extremely strict homeless laws in Long Beach, according to Giard, and the enforcement is equally strict.

An August, 2004 newspaper article notes there is conflict between some business owners and the residents of high-end lofts near Lincoln Park, and the people who serve food to the homeless in the park, as well as the park’s homeless residents. One business owner said the feedings created a "magnet" for homeless people. One of the people serving the food said, however, that the groups serve in the park because the homeless population is already there, and so it is logical to serve in the area.