City of Cleveland orders church to get up to code or stop providing shelter to the homeless

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CLEVELAND (WJW) — A west side church received a cease use notice and zoning violation from the City of Cleveland on Christmas Eve after it began sheltering the homeless.

Volunteers worked at Denison Avenue United Church of Christ on Thursday to help the church get up to code.

“We’ve been in a state of shock actually, but we’ve also been so gratified by the outpouring of support,” said Pastor Nozomi Ikuta.

Ikuta said the church previously met with fire officials and was told of the plan to deliver the notice, but public safety leaders had promised to work with the church.

“We thought that ‘working with us’ was a little more nuanced than just receiving a cease use notice the next day,” Ikuta said.

The city notices followed several inspections after the church opened its doors to the homeless in November.

Ikuta said Denison Avenue UCC began letting the non-profit “Metanoia Project” use a community room to provide bed space for about 40 homeless people who are resistant to traditional county shelters due to issues such as trauma, overcrowding or lack of confidentiality.

The “Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless” said the group previously resided at Saint Malachi Center in Cleveland, which was also cited by the Division of Fire for code violations.

In a press release issued to FOX 8, a city spokesperson said that the Cleveland Division of Building and Housing issued a violation order to Denison Avenue United Church of Christ on December 20 over the church’s change of use, which requires a new certificate of occupancy to shelter transient people overnight.

The church has 30 days to appeal the order. The church can also apply for a temporary R-1 transient use application, according to the press release.

The city press release said Fire Chief Angelo Calvillo met with church officials to discuss the city’s concerns about not meeting fire codes for residential facilities prior to the cease use notice being issued.

Until the required changes are made, the city will require someone to serve as a fire watch, who will monitor the area for fires while people are residing there.

“These codes and standards are in place so that in the event of an emergency, those inside are as safe as possible,” the city spokesperson said.

Ikuta said the church is working to make changes to get up to code.

“We are here to come to solutions,” she said. “We care about safety, we eagerly look forward to conversations with the city and other experts to help us.”

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless organized a protest over the city’s actions on the steps of City Hall Monday.

“In other communities that have cold weather response plans, it’s very intuitive for churches to be the type of organizations that fill that need based on the role of the church,” said Molly Martin with NEOCH.

The organization is calling for more support from Mayor Frank Jackson and city council members.

“We need to support this coalition of willing community members and churches or other organizations that are willing to step up to fill that need,” Martin said.

Ikuta said the church plans to appeal and is working to come up with resources to comply with the city’s demands.

“If what we are doing is consistent with what God wants, then the resources will manifest I believe,” she said.

Ikuta said Councilwoman Dona Brady, who represents the ward, first raised the zoning concerns and refused to meet with the church to discuss the issue.

Brady did not respond to repeated requests for comment by FOX 8 News.

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