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Illinois City Threatens to Fine Church $750 Daily for Providing Shelter to Homeless People

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A picture of First Baptist Church
Source: Pinterest

As the US is experiencing dangerously cold temperatures, homeless people are having it worse. According to reports, over 120 million people were under wind chill alerts. Hence, the National Weather Service warned to “avoid outside activities if possible.”

Due to the weather warnings, many churches are stepping up to provide overnight warming shelters for those experiencing homelessness in their cities. But with a cost, both financially and, for some, legally. An Illinois city threatened to fine a church $750 daily for housing homeless people. 

According to a nonprofit group, the city officials ordered First Baptist Church to stop offering refuge to homeless people. However, it risks facing heavy fines if the church doesn’t comply.

Overnight Warming Locations, a volunteer-run organization in Illinois, revealed in a Facebook post that Edwardsville, a town about 25 miles northeast of St. Louis, issued the warning. The group said, “They issued a citation to First Baptist Church for operating as an overnight warming location.”

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In the post, the group shared a January 10, 2024, letter addressed to Edwardsville Mayor Art Risavy. The group wrote that the church stepped up in the winter to offer shelter from the cold to people. 

Hence, it demanded that the city drop its threats. “As leadership and community members, we request cooperation among city leadership,” the letter said. “Not threats of shutting down a solution that can save lives and meet an actual need in our community.”

Similarly, local church leader Michelle Babb condemned the city’s threats. Babb told a local news outlet that the church’s overnight warming location is essential. “Being out in cold weather is really dangerous,” Babb said. “They need to stay here. They are rooted here.”

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Babb added, “They are our neighbors even though they don’t have addresses, so we need to provide shelter for them.” Overnight Warming Locations also wrote that Edwardsville has been experiencing plummeting temperatures recently. 

“The temperature has plunged over 30 degrees,” the group wrote. “And we could hit -5 with a windchill of almost -20.” The 10-day weather forecast for Edwardsville predicted temperatures will hover in the low to high teens. Hence, the city put wind chill advisories in parts of Illinois.

As a result, the group is urging members of the public to express support for the First Baptist Church. “The doors to First Baptist Church are open tonight because no one should have to flee Edwardsville at sundown,” the post said. “Your help will keep the doors unlocked. We need you.”

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ALSO READ: Migrants Remain Homeless in Sanctuary Cities Amid Freezing Temps and Winter Storms

After residents mounted pressure, the city announced it would lift the citation. It also said it would cancel the municipal court date previously scheduled for January 18, 2024. “It was never our intent to prevent it from operating,” Risavy said. “Particularly at a time of such dangerous weather conditions.”

Risavy added that the city’s concern was ensuring the facility was safe for residents and volunteers. “We hope to continue a conversation with First Baptist Church,” he added. “So we can be part of the solution for those unhoused or in dire circumstances.” 

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