Potential Government Restriction on Daytime Shelter In A Church

First Lutheran Church hosts Listening House in their church’s lower level.

By Randi Ilyse Roth, Executive Director

Interfaith Action’s work is organized around this vision: People of faith working together to relieve the effects of poverty and address its root causes. We are following with great interest what is happening to a faith community in the East Metro recently threatened with governmental restrictions on its anti-poverty work.

Listening House is a non-profit that moved from its downtown location to First Lutheran Church in June 2017. It is a daytime shelter for people experiencing homelessness. Listening House’s web site explains that it is a place where:

[P]ractical assistance, counsel, and a friendly ear are offered to people who are homeless, disadvantaged, or lonely. Staff and volunteers aspire to create a sense of community and connection by promoting respect for all. Respect nurtures hope, which in turn strengthens personal resolve toward positive change. . . .Our doors open to up to 120 adults each day. Though our space is humble, friendships are rich and we actively engage with surrounding businesses to be a good neighbor.

Now Listening House finds itself at the center of a conflict. The Saint Paul zoning administrator determined that Listening House is “similar to” a church, and based on that, Listening House was permitted to locate in First Lutheran. Some of Listening House’s new neighbors, though, were unhappy about it being located in their residential neighborhood, and they appealed the administrator’s determination to the City Council. On December 13, the City Council adopted a resolution that it has not yet presented to the Mayor for signature. If the Mayor signs the resolution, then, among other restrictions, beginning on April 2, 2018, Listening House will be limited to serving 20 people per day. Listening House says they serve on average 65 people per day, with up to 125 people per day when it is bitterly cold outside.

Interfaith Action’s Project Home serves guests experiencing homelessness in 24 churches and synagogues. Many are in residential neighborhoods. Our Department of Indian Work food shelf is operated out of our Summit Avenue location. We are a former Council of Churches that is now an interfaith organization of houses of worship dedicated to economic mobility and to keeping faith with those experiencing economic hardship. We will watch as this case and related cases venture into defining the parameters within which government can restrict decisions made by churches and other houses of worship that choose to be present in the lives of those in need.

Warm Regards,

Randi Ilyse Roth
Executive Director