Lorain pastor denied church permit for helping homeless

Published: Sep. 19, 2019 at 8:11 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Melvin Navarro, a pastor in Lorain, was denied a permit for religious services in the city. When he spoke to Mayor Joe Kozuira yesterday, the pastor says it was because of helping the city’s homeless population.

“I believe it’s almost unconstitutional to tell a church ‘you cannot have church in your own building,’” Navarro said.

About a year ago, Navarro and his wife Angelina, both veterans, moved Healing Wings International Ministries to a new location. Two weeks ago, Melvin applied for a conditional use permit — which would have formally allowed for religious gatherings in the property — and was denied.

According to Melvin, city officials believe organizations such as churches and charities attract homeless individuals to the city.

“Homelessness is a big problem in the city,” Melvin said. “They don’t want any homeless, and therefore they don’t want anymore churches or charitable organizations.”

Melvin also applied for an operations permit and was approved by the city’s fire chief. In the church’s previous location, Melvin’s operations permit was denied, but the conditional use permit was approved. The new facility also used to be home to another church before Melvin moved in.

“I was told you shouldn’t have a problem because this was a church before,” he explained. “So I went ahead and applied, confident that we would be approved to be a church, and I was denied.”

The couple began helping the homeless when they discovered they were outside during the winter, they decided to open their doors to provide shelter.

“I told my husband ‘we have this big facility here, we have to do something,’” Angelina explained.

Since then, they have provided a wide variety of services and aid to Lorain’s homeless, including a food pantry and clothing donations. Many of them also helped with the repairs and renovations of the new facility over the past year.

“They helped put up the drop ceilings,” Angelina explained, “they weren’t just sitting here doing nothing. They were being proactive.”

She also said many of those homeless also ended up finding jobs.

“My husband connected them with some people,” she said. “some of them moved on to get apartments.”

The conflict of interest is also relevant to Melvin and Angelina’s personal experience, as the couple almost became homeless themselves.

“We struggled, we fell behind on our bills,” Angelina explained, "we were almost evicted

For the time being, Healing Wings will continue to operate as a ministry, as it is federally recognized as a non-profit organization. In the meantime, Melvin and Angelina hope the community will support their goal to become a recognized church.

“I don’t know how long it’s going to take, whether it’s going to take six months or a year,” Melvin said.

The city of Lorain’s Mayor’s office was not available for comment.

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