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Homeless shelter divides Fayetteville church, nonprofit

A Fayetteville church is criticizing the City Council's decision to approve a homeless shelter next door.

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FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — A Fayetteville church is criticizing the City Council's decision to approve a homeless shelter next door.

The council recently voted to allow Operation Inasmuch to build a shelter for up to 40 men at the intersection of Hillsboro and Chance streets. The nonprofit has been providing meals for hundreds of homeless people for about eight years and has been working to open an overnight shelter for them.

The move doesn't sit well with Rev. Artie Odom Jr., pastor of St. Luke AME Church, at 522 Hillsboro St., who called the council's vote for the shelter a vote against his congregation. The nearby tent city and the growing homeless population in the neighborhood forces him to hire off-duty police officers to keep his members safe, he said.

"We were having an official board meeting, and we had to have the police come and escort somebody away last night," Odom said Tuesday. "That's a normal occurrence for us."

St. Luke provides thousands of meals to the sick, shut-ins, senior citizens and children, and Sue Byrd, director of Operation Inasmuch, said her organization and the church should be on the same side of helping those in need.

"They didn't lose, we didn't win. Who won was the homeless," Byrd said. "There's going to be a place for them, and the whole issue is about them. It's not about Operation Inasmuch. It's not about St. Luke. It's about caring for the folks who are on the street."

She noted that the vacant lot where the shelter will go was formerly a hot spot for drug deals and prostitution.

Odom said Byrd rallied the support of two predominantly white churches in downtown Fayetteville concerned about the number of homeless people on their properties before getting City Council approval to build in St. Luke's majority minority neighborhood.

"They wanted them out of there, and so, therefore, she feels that it's all right that she go get (the homeless) and bring them to our neighborhood," he said.

Byrd said Operation Inasmuch works with the homeless every day and insists the shelter, which will include a computer area to help the homeless men with resumes and will provide some technical training to help them find work, will be safe.

"The shelter will work in this town and this community," she said. "We will do something that this community will be proud of."

Odom said he isn't sure if St. Luke will take legal action to stop the shelter from opening, but if it is built, the church will put a fence around its property to keep its members safe.


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