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Local church sues Brookings for restricting homeless meal services

Photo taken at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church
Diocese of Oregon
Photo taken at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church

The City of Brookings, Oregon is being sued after the city passed an ordinance that prohibited St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church from serving more than two free meals a week to the homeless without a permit.

The church says they are obeying the teachings of Jesus Christ when they give food and medical care to those who need it. By denying them that opportunity, they claim the city is interfering with their faith.

The Right Reverend Diana Akiyama is the Bishop of the Diocese of Oregon. She says the city is impeding their right to religious expression.

“We are a Christian denomination, seeking to express our faith fundamentally in the form of feeding people who are hungry,” says Akiyama. “And we don't believe city council has the right to tell us to stop taking care of people in need.”

Brookings Mayor Ron Hedenskog declined to comment on ongoing litigation.

The ordinance against serving more than two free meals a week came in response to a petition from people living near St. Timothy’s, who claimed the church’s programs were creating public safety problems. The petition, which refers to the people around St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church as “vagrants” and “undesirables” was signed by 30 people.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, St. Timothy’s has taken on a larger role in feeding, vaccinating and sheltering the homeless community.

The Oregon Justice Resource Center's Walter Fonseca is representing the church. He says that the ordinance seems to be targeted specifically at limiting activities at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church.

Sophia Prince is a reporter and producer for JPR News. She began as JPR’s 2021 summer intern through the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism. She graduated from the University of Oregon with a BA in journalism and international studies.