In the interest of full transparency and in response to the dozens of complaints, comments and expressions of concern I’ve received over the past couple of months I am taking this opportunity to share the information made publicly available concerning the action recently taken by the City of Great Falls related to the ‘homeless encampment’ at the First United Methodist Church in downtown Great Falls.
Here is the full text of the press release issued by the City:
“Draft Press Release – First United Methodist Church Homeless Encampment
Over the past six months, First United Methodist Church has been expanding its homeless outreach ministry located at 610 2nd Ave N. Initially, the church provided food and space for homeless persons. Recently, the church expanded its activities into a tent and camper encampment in violation of the City of Great Falls Municipal Code.
The City has notified Pastor Jeff Wakeley that the Church is required under the City’s zoning ordinance to obtain a Conditional Use Permit to even operate any type of homeless shelter in the first instance. The Church has since submitted a CUP application that is currently being processed by City staff, and will ultimately be presented to the Great Falls Zoning Commission within the next few weeks.
In the meantime, the Church was also placed on notice in early May that the tent and camper encampment is a separate violation of the City’s zoning code, which does not permit campgrounds in the zoning district where the Church is located. The Church did not respond to that notice by removing the tents and camping arrangements as directed, so the City has now filed a lawsuit in District Court to enforce its zoning requirements.
Finally, the City has also begun the process of reviewing and responding to several citizen complaints regarding a “public nuisance” condition on the property under City Code. That process can ultimately lead to a City Commission hearing on the matter and a possible order from the City Commission that the nuisance conditions on the property be abated.
The City had hoped that First United Methodist Church would work with the MT Continuum of Care Coalition and other existing service providers to assist the homeless. Instead, First United has sought to expand its efforts stating that the City has not done enough to support a “low barrier” shelter.”
Here is a copy of the complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief filed by the City in District Court to “enforce its zoning requirements”.