Church closes homeless shelter over sex offenders

Posted at 7:37 PM, Oct 16, 2013
and last updated 2013-10-16 19:37:47-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) -- When it gets cold in Richmond, the homeless will have fewer places to go after the shelter at the Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church pulled the plug after learning they may have been offering refuge to sex offenders.

"This was a rough decision for us because we looked at the overflow shelters as an extension of our ministry,” said Reverend Tyrone Nelson with Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church.

Nelson said his ministry is deeply rooted in the Richmond community, but they couldn't take a chance with opening up that ministry to the city's homeless anymore.

"We actually realized that we had sex offenders who were actually using our address," Nelson said. "They were using the shelter and probably had been using the shelter on and off for a few years.”

Last June, Nelson informed city leaders that their insurance company considered sex offenders a liability in the church, so the church decided that it would be best for us to not renew the contract.

Nelson took CBS 6 News' Sandra Jones through the church hallway where Nelson said sex offenders could have come in contact with women and children.

"We always thought, never let the kids go to the restroom alone. So if the kids left the restroom, left the bible study area, went to the bathroom, then they would take an adult with them,” said Nelson.

With Nelson's church off the table, the city's administration turned to the 50-year-old Public Safety Building that is not up to code.

When CBS 6 asked Richmond City Council President Charles Samuels about conditions, he said he had not been in the building for about a year.

"But I do know it's going to take around $5,000 to get it to a level that's appropriate for people to sleep in there overnight,” said Samuels.

The building is no stranger to controversy. A Richmond judge sued the city in 2005 saying the Public Safety Building had hazardous and unsafe conditions. As a result, judges and other staffers were able to relocate to the Manchester Courthouse Building.

CBS 6 asked Samuels is the homeless would be safe using that property as a cold weather shelter.

"We've been told by the administration that that's what it's going to take to get it to a place where it's appropriate for people to be,” said Samuels.

Tammy Hawley, the mayor’s press secretary, said the building is still being used for other purposes and would not have been recommended for use or approved by city council. The city’s lock-up is currently on the ground floor and that would be the same location for the shelter.