According to the latest newsletter from Isaiah House, the Catholic Worker community in Orange County, California:
Our lawsuit against the City is still pending. However, settlement discussions with the City under the supervision of the court have progressed steadily. We remain hopeful that a negotiated settlement will be reached soon.
The Orange County Catholic Worker’s crime? Housing homeless kids and their families without a license.
(Contact info: 316 Cypress St, Santa Ana CA 92701; 714.835.6304; firstname.lastname@example.org.)
According to the Los Angeles Times, the OCCW is one of the largest homeless shelters in Southern California. According to Pie and Coffee, it’s one of the finest Catholic Worker communities in the United States. They are a true asset to the city of Santa Ana.
Dwight Smith, of the OCCW, writes:
Initially, it was our fault for violating zoning laws; I was guilty of a misdemeanor and our “renegade mission” would be stopped, one way or another. We were actually told that children dying in the alleys was legally preferable to the possibility that the City could in some way be held responsible for not having them zoned out of our house and yard in the first place, before they had become so distressingly visible. In hoping to further another transformation, from charity to justice, we started by asking everyone in City government why other counties have social workers who follow kids from motel to shelter to school to make sure they’re not left behind. In the end, though, we figured out the real reason why this county “can’t promise anything:” when we elect a Mayor, a City Counselperson, or a County Supervisor, the last thing we want is a religious “fanatic.” It’s very fine indeed if a candidate is compassionate, so long as their compassion is tempered by financial conservatism. If someone were to turn the baptismal promise “My Lord is Christ!” into a campaign promise, that insane violation of the separation of Church and State would end our support right there.
Bob Zanolli, President of Winchells Donuts, Dwight Smith, of the Orange County Catholic Worker, and some homeless kids. Photo: Mike Benedetti.
The Catholic Worker in South Bend, Indiana, is having similar trouble:
It was looking increasingly likely Thursday that the city will end up in court over its intent to stop a group from operating three homeless shelters in a near west side neighborhood.
City attorney Chuck Leone said the city is not afraid to enforce its residential zoning laws against Catholic Worker of Michiana, which claims its shelters in the 1100 block of West Washington Street should be exempted by a federal law protecting the expression of religious beliefs.
South Bend Tribune, August 12, 2005
On August 14, a South Bend Tribune columnist opined:
The Worker House program is staffed by people with honorable goals, but that doesn’t mean they can thumb their noses at the laws. They need to respect their neighbors and live within the strictures of the law.
Freedom of religion doesn’t mean the freedom to undo years of work by neighbors to restore and preserve the single-family residential character of their streets.
C’mon, SBT, let’s get real. Is the problem disrespect for zoning laws, or is the problem homeless people? How bloody do the fights get when a group of med students tries to share a house in this neighborhood? Give us non-locals some background, some comparisons.
And how are you defining “neighbors”? Are the down-and-out of South Bend neighbors too? Did they just fall out of the sky?
Finally, what is this “thumb their noses at the laws” business? Are these Catholic Workers running around breaking laws willy nilly? Did you choose not to document this other lawbreaking to preserve their good reputation? Or is this closer to the situation in Mark 3, when Jesus heals a man’s hand on the Sabbath, incidentally breaking a law in order to soothe the suffering before him?