Pastor Jim Stewart of North Avenue Alliance Church in Burlington says if it weren't for all the red tape -- homeless Vermonters would be sleeping inside his church Thursday night -- but parents find his proposal terrifying and say they're thankful they still have some time to fight it.
"We have on our consciences this fact, people are outside in the cold on a night like tonight and they may be on the brink of freezing to death or it might even happen tonight" Pastor Jim Stewart said Thursday. When a homeless community advocate asked him to provide space for a shelter he did as he believed Jesus himself would have done and said yes. "As Christians we are called to administer to the poor its something you see all throughout the bible all through the old testament and new testament," Stewart said.
The church has been around for 62 years, for the past 35 it operated a daycare out of the same building. The proposed space for the shelter is the church gymnasium, that's where four year old Eliana Chubb eats her snack every morning. "How do you justify bringing an added risk to a child's life?" Eliana's father, Walter Chubb said, imagining the change. He says he feels the church made up its mind without consulting parents, and if the church goes through with the plan as is he says he'll remove his daughter from the facility. He's one of many parents that feels this way which means daycare workers could lose their jobs.
"They're saying they're a church first and a childcare facility second but they take my money every week. They made a decision to become a childcare facility so now they're one and one in my opinion," Chubb said.
"Whichever way we go we are left in a very uncomfortable situation," Stewart said. He says he more than understands parents concerns but feels there are few other options. "If we are honestly going to be a church, real followers of Jesus Christ, we have no choice but to do this," Stewart said. "If this is honestly the last straw and all of these different organizations have honestly gone out there and questioned everybody and looked at every solution then we as a community are failing horribly," Chubb said.
One other option the church is considering is using the annex, where Sunday school is held, for the shelter. This plan would require them to reapply for zoning permits with the city. A process that could take several months and still leaves parents concerned loitering will be an issue.
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