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Great Falls files suit against church's homeless encampment

First United Methodist Church "homeless outreach ministry"
First United Methodist Church
First United Methodist Church files Conditional Use Permit
Jeff Wakeley
First United Methodist Church "homeless outreach ministry"
Posted at 8:12 AM, Jun 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-03 10:42:14-04

GREAT FALLS - The City of Great Falls said in a news release on Tuesday, May 31, 2022, that over the past six months, First United Methodist Church has been expanding its homeless outreach ministry located at 610 2nd Avenue North.

Initially, the Church provided food and space for homeless persons, and has now expanded its activities into a tent and camper encampment in violation of the City of Great Falls Municipal Code.

The City has notified Pastor Jeff Wakeley that the church is required under the City’s zoning ordinance to obtain a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) to operate any type of homeless shelter in the first instance.

The church has since submitted a CUP application that is currently being processed by City staff and will be presented to the Great Falls Zoning Commission within the next few weeks.

In the meantime, the Church was also placed on notice in early May that the tent and camper encampment is a separate violation of the City’s zoning code, which does not permit campgrounds in the zoning district where the church is located.

First United Methodist Church "homeless outreach ministry"
First United Methodist Church "homeless outreach ministry"

The church did not respond to that notice by removing the tents and camping arrangements as directed, so the City has now filed a lawsuit in District Court to enforce its zoning requirements.

The City has also begun the process of reviewing and responding to several citizen complaints regarding a “public nuisance” condition on the property under City Code. That process can ultimately lead to a City Commission hearing on the matter and a possible order from the City Commission that the nuisance conditions on the property be abated.

City officials said they had hoped that First United Methodist Church would work with the Great Falls Local Continuum of Care and other existing service providers to assist the homeless. Instead, First United has sought to expand its efforts stating that the City has not done enough to support a “low barrier” shelter.

Wakely told MTN News in January: “It’s not a problem you’re going to solve, it’s a problem you’re going to manage. The community needs to take responsibility for it. We’re all a part of the community regardless of whether you’re poor or homeless or whatever. We’re all a part of what makes up the community, we’re all neighbors."