Christian Homeless Ministry Threatened With Arrest for ‘Loitering’ Reaches Agreement With County

Homeless pdHARRISBURG, Pa. — A Christian homeless ministry in Pennsylvania that was allegedly threatened with arrest this past fall for loitering on public property has reached an agreement with county officials to continue its outreach without penalty.

As previously reported, Isaiah 61 Ministries, which feeds the homeless in Harrisburg two days each week, says that it was ejected from the Dauphin County Courthouse parking lot in November and advised that members could be arrested for loitering if they continued their outreach at the location. The county had announced earlier this year that it planned to post “No Loitering” signs around the property.

“The County Commission has basically come out and said, ‘Look, you’ve got to move along and if you don’t, we’re going to begin arresting people who are trespassing on our property,’” Jeremy Dys, an attorney that is representing the ministry, told OneNewsNow.

Dys sent a letter to the county in response, outlining that the situation began in September when Deputy Chief Clerk J. Scott Burford informed the group that they must discontinue their activities at the courthouse. He said that Burford reiterated the penalty at a hearing on October 18th.

“Dauphin County’s actions toward Isaiah 61 and the other ministries engaged in religious ministry outside the county courthouse substantially burden those ministries’ religious exercise without a compelling government interest,” Dys, who works with the Texas-based Liberty Institute, wrote. “Moreover, in imposing an all out ban on ministry activity in a public area, Dauphin County has failed to employ the least restrictive means possible.”

But county officials told reporters that they had been speaking to Isaiah 61 Ministries about moving to another location because the homeless have allegedly been using the property to relieve themselves, and some workers have complained of harassment. Burford told the Patriot-News that patrons of the nearby bar have also been a problem, and that as of late November, there were still plans to post the “No Loitering” signs.

He said, however, that the county was working on drafting an agreement that will allow the ministry to use the parking lot, and according to the Liberty Institute, that agreement has now been accepted by all parties. Isaiah 61 Ministries, and other organizations, may use the parking lot two hours a night, provided that they leave the area clean and trash-free.

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“The Dauphin County Commission did the right thing by recognizing the liberty of Isaiah 61 and other people of faith to exercise their faith in public by serving the poor, homeless, and elderly,” Dys stated in an update announcing the agreement. “Those who live out their faith in public by serving the poor, elderly, and homeless ought to be applauded by their government, not punished.”

Local counsel Randall Wegner of the Independence Law Center also expressed his satisfaction with the agreement.

“All too often, our leaders lose sight of our core liberties. It is good to see Dauphin County leaders provide more freedom to fix the problems around us, rather than exert more government control that would simply get in the way,” he stated.

The ministry is now again serving the homeless at the location, while the county has erected signs that will only be directed toward the homeless or bar patrons who were believed to have raised the initial concerns that sparked the controversy.

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  • Sir Tainly

    Matthew 8 (1599 Geneva Bible)
    19 [h]Then came there a certain Scribe, and said unto him, Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.
    20 But Jesus said unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the heaven have [i]nests, but the Son of man hath not whereon to rest his head.

    And this:
    1 Corinthians 13 (1599 Geneva Bible)
    1 Though [a]I speak with the tongues of men and [b]Angels, and have not love, I am as sounding brass, or a [c]tinkling cymbal.
    2 And though I had the gift of prophecy, and knew all secrets and all knowledge, yea, if I had all [d]faith, so that I could remove mountains, and had not love, I were nothing.
    3 And though I feed the poor with all my goods, and though I give my body, that I be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing.

    Yet still this:
    Matthew 25 (1599 Geneva Bible)
    34 Then shall the king say to them on his right hand, Come ye [i]blessed of my father: take the inheritance of the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
    35 For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I thirsted, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in unto you.
    36 I was naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
    37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? or athirst, and gave thee drink?
    38 And when saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in unto us? or naked, and clothed thee?
    39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
    40 And the king shall answer, and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it to me.

  • Karate Kathleen

    Common sense needs to prevail here. Yes it is good to feed the homeless, but it needs to be done in a better spot than the courthouse parking lot. It would be nice if the city would be willing to have another sign or maybe just simply stated below the “no loitering” sign something like “Homeless and need food? You can be helped at…(then put the ministry’s better location.