SUGAR NOTCH — Week after week nearly 40 homeless men pack their belongings and move to another church basement where they’ll lay their heads for seven nights, seeking shelter from the elements.
But where the men will lay their heads in two weeks is in question.
The schedule has the men at St. Jude’s Church in Mountain Top this week, then heading to Central United Methodist Church in Wilkes-Barre next week before arriving at Holy Family Church in Sugar Notch for a week starting Jan. 11, but an enforcement letter sent to the church by the borough’s zoning officer threatens a fine of up to $500 a day for housing the men.
The letter has Vince Kabacinski, director of V.I.S.I.O.N., a nonprofit organization that coordinates the program, up in arms.
With 36 churches throughout Luzerne County on board, Kabacinski sent out the call for more to sign on to offer temporary shelter for the men. The men stay at the churches only at night from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. During the day, many work or attend programs.
“They heard the call,” Kabacinski said of Holy Family. He said a meeting with the parish council before Thanksgiving was positive and the council voted unanimously to allow the men to stay in the church basement for the week.
Borough Councilman Herman Balas, a member of the church, said he was “disappointed in the parish council to allow all this stuff without any regard for anyone around here.”
Kabacinski attended three Masses at the church and was given the opportunity to address the congregation and to explain the program, and offer thanks for opening the church up for the men in need.
He said the church members viewed this as “a ministry of the church” and there was positive feedback.
Then a letter sent by registered mail was received by the church on Dec. 18. Signed by borough Zoning Officer Carl Alber, the enforcement notice informed the church it was prohibited “the housing of V.I.S.I.O.N. participants at our church under threat of a $500 fine for each day that we would house the homeless men of Luzerne County,” according to an item placed in the church’s bulletin on Sunday.
Kabacinski said he has called the town’s mayor and council president to inquire about the letter and he’s trying to schedule a meeting with borough officials this week. Balas said no meeting is scheduled, and as far as he’s concerned it’s an issue that’s been addressed. He said V.I.S.I.O.N. and the church have 30 days from receipt of the letter to object to the borough’s zoning board.
For more information, read Tuesday’s Times Leader.