Dundalk church fined $12,000 for helping the homeless

DUNDALK, Md. - A Dundalk church faces a fine of $12,000 for helping the homeless. 

“I showed up Wednesday morning to find a citation on the door that said we're going to be fined $12,000 and have a court date because we have unhoused homeless people sleeping outside the church at night,” said Reverend Katie Grover with the Patapsco United Methodist Church.

Grover added that the men and women who sleep outside their doors do so because they have nowhere else to go and because they feel safe there.

“We feel we here as a church that it's scriptural mandate that's it an imperative to care for the least, the last, the lost, the poor, the hungry,” she said.

While it may be the business of the church to serve the homeless, Chester Bartko, the owner of a produce stand next door, said it’s hurting his business.

“We have a greenhouse and we sell flowers and shrubbery, and the homeless started camping right next to our retail sales area,” said Bartko.

He alleges he's been threatened before and that some of the people damaged his property by urinating on his apple tree.

“They dump gallons of urine on it,” Bartko said.

He tried talking to the pastor, police, and finally county code enforcement. The church received its first warning for non-permitted rooming and boarding back in June and three more times after that.

According to the Baltimore County online database of code complaints, the most recent write-up for the church was at the end of November.

“We can't be here all night patrolling the area. We can't control whether someone comes and sleeps outside of our doors, so I don't know how we're cited for people who find refuge here,” Grover said.

Grover is now struggling with doing what's right and what's legal.

“The church should live up to the community standards, not be a magnet for these people,” said Bartko.

“They are children of God just as well, they're our neighbor just as well and I just try to explain we're doing the best we can,” said Grover.

The church is scheduled to appear in court on December 21. Reverend Grover said after speaking with the code enforcement office, if they comply with the code the fee will be dismissed, but if they're forced to pay it then they might not be able to afford feeding the poor and there's a chance the church would need to shut down.

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