GREAT FALLS - Several weeks ago, First United Methodist Church applied to the City of Great Falls to receive a conditional use permit for an Emergency Homeless Shelter.
The encampment is located on church property at 610 2nd Avenue North.
An encampment has been on the church’s property since the winter of 2021 when Pastor Jeff Wakely noticed homeless people struggling with the cold weather. Attempting to lend a helping hand, the pastor let the homeless stay on the property and began the encampment in the parking lot despite breaking zoning codes.
Within the last week, church leadership pulled their application after a 5-0 vote from the Zoning Board for approval, per Craig Raymond, CBO, Director of Planning and Community Development.
On Tuesday, July 20, the acting counsel representing the church advised City Attorney Jeff Hindoien that the church grounds will be cleared of the homeless camp by Aug. 1, 2022.
The city had filed a civil lawsuit in May 2022 against the church for violating city zoning code.
The city is now willing to drop litigation against the church if the property is clear of camping by August 1, 2022.
“If not, we'll just continue to move forward and do what we need to do to seek relief from the district court and try and get things tracked out in that fashion," said Hindoien.
We spoke with one man who lives in the encampment who said he is worried that many of the camp residents will end up in jail after the clearing of the camp.