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Tent in Urbana

Apr 12, 2023

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A tent at the corner of G and Gordon streets is still providing shelter to the homeless despite attempts by the city of Brunswick to get it taken down.

The Revs. Leonard Small of Savannah and Zack Lyde of Brunswick set up next to the former St. John's Missionary Baptist Church after the City Commission imposed a 65-day closure on The Well, a daytime shelter and hospitality center for the homeless on Gloucester Street, which began on April 22.

Small, pastor of Litway Missionary Baptist Church in Savannah, and Lyde opened the doors of the derelict St. John's church building to the homeless after The Well closed. Brunswick code enforcement shut down the church and had it boarded up days later after declaring it unfit for occupancy, prompting the pastors to put up the tent.

Code enforcement cited Small for both housing people in the derelict building and putting up the tent. Originally scheduled for May 31, the hearing date for the citation has been moved to June 28 at 9:30 a.m. in Brunswick Municipal Court.

"In either case, we believe it is an assault on religious freedom," Small said. "We believe the city is bullying the homeless population. The city should be ashamed for not providing for the most downtrodden.

"Care of citizens is the most fundamental purpose of government."

Small said he's considering legal action against the city but doesn't want to get bogged down in court if he can avoid it.

On Monday, things were continuing very much as they have been under the tent. A dozen or so homeless people were under the covering in the morning. Volunteers dropped off food and other supplies while another took up clothing, giving her time to do some laundry.

Small told The News on Monday that the tent was supposed to be a "stopgap" to give homeless people a place to go until The Well reopens at the end of the 65 days.

The Well never has provided overnight accommodations, but many people who frequented it would stay under its awning or set up against the wall of the adjacent Safe Harbor children's shelter at night.

Small said the tent may become more than a stopgap if FaithWorks — the charity organization that operates The Well — some other group or The Well doesn't step up to provide overnight shelter for the homeless.

"We may have to adjust our plans to be a more permanent fixture," Small said during a phone interview.

He also said two building permit requests have been filed with the city for renovation work at the old St. John's church building, but the city has denied both because a contractor was not listed on the applications. Securing a contractor has been difficult because church is boarded up, he said.

City commissioners closed The Well due to concerns about a spate of violent incidents allegedly perpetrated by homeless individuals earlier this year. Brunswick Mayor Cosby Johnson sent a letter on April 11 to the Rev. Wright Culpepper, executive director of FaithWorks, requesting The Well close voluntarily.

"As you are aware, in the past several months there have been multiple, violent attacks on city residents, business owners and those experiencing indigent circumstances," the letter reads. "These attacks, while not always occurring on the aforementioned property, all share some discernible connection to The Well."

Out of five incidents from February to April this year, Culpepper told The News that only one of the alleged perpetrators was actively making use of The Well's services.

Brunswick Police Chief Kevin Jones told The News on Monday that The Well's closure has had a positive impact on public safety in the downtown area.

"It has calmed down around The Well … but my guess is in the downtown area, at least what you see is down 60%," Jones said.

Police have seen a sharp increase in the number of calls to police regarding suspicious persons in the area immediately around the church at G and Gordon streets, he said, but there were no other impacts he could immediately tie to homeless people.

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