Williamsburg's Homeless & Indigent

P.O. Box 366, Lightfoot, VA 23090
Office: 757-561-3255
"Assisting people in re-gaining hope and a better way of life."

Sunday, October 26, 2003


Remember when you were younger and your parents would tell you "I don't like who you choose for your friends" or "We don't think they are the kind of friends you should have"? We have all gone through this at one time or another with our parents. Then we either rebel to show our parents that we have the right to pick our friends or some shun the friend (that has been marked less than desirable by the parents.) Well, that is part of the struggle I am going through at the moment. Not against my parents (because they are deceased), nor Geoff's (because his are accepting and loving of people), nor by my husband (especially since he knows what it is like to have been homeless), nor my W&M friends (because they have the heart for the homeless), nor the homeless themselves. But it is a fight against the county officials who are trying to tell me who I can have at our house in the daytime.

So let's backup to earlier this week...to Tuesday when Mr. Seaborn came for his appointment. As I have said earlier in a previous blog, I wanted to ease the county's mind that we planned to work within the regulations for building permits. When he showed up along with another inspector, he informed me that they had decided to not allow any services to be provided, even in the daytime. The homeless were not allowed to come over and use our computer to search for jobs or do resumes; could not use the extra washer and dryers we have to save money to do their laundry; they could not store any groceries in our spare refrigerators or cook on the stoves; they couldn't come and shower or bathe. So I inquired about us becoming a business and charging for the services to the homeless. He stated with us being in Economic Opportunity district, the revenue generated from our services would not meet the standards for the district.

But again I heard the dreaded phrase, "we commend what you are trying to do, but officially you can't do it here either." He then proceeded to inform me that we couldn't have Bible Study at our home either "to have Bible Study at your house 3 times a week is defining you as a church and a church would not be welcomed in Economic Opportunity district either." I questioned this statement and asked "where is this written as a law? So everyone in Williamsburg who has Bible Studies in their home is breaking the law?" Mr. Seaborn said that the Comprehensive Plan and County Codes do not allow it. We can not have Bible Study here for the homeless at all.

So I asked, "I tend to have W&M students over often to eat dinner or play Frisbee. Is this ok?" Besides I pointed out to him, "what else do you do with almost 3 areas of land, where almost 2 of it are fenced in the backyard?" "What about my friends from church or other friends in the community?" He said "that is fine." Ah I am starting to see a pattern here. Everyday people are ok to come over in the daytime, but if you are homeless, you are not welcomed at our home...according to the statements of who can come over. But, here is the problem. I have always had a variety of friends. Some were from upper elite families (Senator and Governor's kids, newspaper company owner's kids, CEO's kids); some were from 'the other side of the track' or 'lower income families' (my high school sweetheart was from a low-mid middle class family in the valley of the WV mountains); some were friends who were years older than me (my close friend in SC is 70ish and Geoff's best friend in SC is late 60's) and some of my friends are younger (such as Hadyn.) When I was a teen, I had friends that were white, black, Hispanic, Philippine, Asian, and Indian. In SC, I had friends who were homeless and friends who weren't.

Here is Williamsburg, one of my closest friends, Ann is many years older than I am, yet we have a lot in common. My other friend, Susan is Italian. Hadyn is a sophomore at W&M. And one of my best friends use to be homeless until August and she is black. Actually, several of our friends are currently or previously homeless. I don’t make this statement as to say in a generic way that we have friends who are homeless, as to cover up for them. I truly mean they are our friends. Even though we work with several people who are homeless, we are not close friends with all of them. But we do consider them our friends. So with all this in mind, why should it matter if my friends have homes or not. They are still my friends. Why is it ok for Hadyn or Ann or Susan to come over each day to watch a movie, have lunch or dinner, do laundry or use my computer? Because they have a place to sleep at night?

Now even though I wasn’t always thrilled when my parents told me who I could be friends with, they could control who was allowed over to our house, because it was their home and I only lived there. But, considering they are deceased, I am grown and it is our home (or at least we pay the rent,) nobody should have the right to say what social status somebody has to be in order to come over in the daytime. Now some may argue the fact we rent instead of own. Malarkey! Even when you rent, you have the right to the private enjoyment of the place you live in. There is nothing, nor can there be, in a lease that states “any visitors must make a set income to visit” or “Visitors must have a home in order to come see you.” As long as my friends do not infringe upon neighbors’ rights or cause any problems to them or their property, it is no one else’s business. And so far, I have not seen anything in the county code about set standards of friends at a person home.

Now more importantly...the right to religious freedom. The statement made by the inspector “to have Bible Study at your home 3 times a week constitutes you as a church” has become an upsetting claim to many of the Pastors in Williamsburg. Here again, I have searched the county codes and can not find anything in regards to his claim. First of all, the Bible says to go forth and share the Gospel with others. It is a responsibility of all Christians. Secondly, God wants us to reach out to the lost, poor and needy (research Commander Booth of Salvation Army when he established the first SA.) We have helped others who were lost in their relationship with God. One gentleman who use to be Muslim recently dedicated his life to God through Christianity, by his choice. Another who had such anger toward God for his situation chose to rededicate his life to God and realized it was his actions that brought him to where he was, but that he needed to experience his pain to go out and help others. We don’t force or require people to come to the Lord, we just help them if they desire so.

I recently called the Legislative Office in Richmond about this so-called code. They knew of none and pointed me to the State Code regarding religious freedom:
Religious freedom preserved; definitions; applicability; construction; remedies.
A. Except as provided in subsection B, no government entity shall substantially burden a person's free exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.
B. A government entity may substantially burden a person's free exercise of religion only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person (i) furthers a compelling governmental interest and (ii) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest. Before the compelling governmental interest test required by this subsection is applied, a person asserting a violation of this section shall first prove that the law, ordinance or regulation as applied to him burdens the free exercise of his religion.
C. As used in this section:
"Demonstrates" means meets the burden of going forward with the evidence and of persuasion under the standard of a preponderance of the evidence.
"Exercise of religion" means the exercise of religion under Article I, Section 16 of the Constitution of Virginia, the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom (§ 57-1 et seq.), and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
"Fraudulent claim" means a claim that is dishonest in fact or that is made principally for a patently improper purpose, such as to harass the opposing party.
"Frivolous claim" means a claim that completely lacks merit under existing law and cannot be supported by a good faith argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law or the establishment of new law.
"Government entity" means any branch, department, agency, instrumentality of state government, or any official or other person acting under color of state law, or any political subdivision of the state.
"Prevails" means to obtain "prevailing party" status as defined by courts construing the federal Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act of 1976, 42 U.S.C. § 1988.
"Substantially burden" means to meaningfully inhibit or curtail religiously motivated practice.
D. Nothing in this section shall be construed to (i) authorize any government entity to burden any religious belief or (ii) affect, interpret or in any way address those portions of Article I, Section 16 of the Constitution of Virginia, the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom (§ 57-1 et seq.), and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution that prohibit laws respecting the establishment of religion. Granting government funds, benefits or exemptions, to the extent permissible under clause (ii) of this subsection shall not constitute a violation of this section. As used in this subsection, "granting" used with respect to government funding, benefits, or exemptions, shall not include the denial of government funding, benefits, or exemptions.
E. A person whose religious exercise has been burdened by government in violation of this section may assert that violation as a claim or defense in any judicial or administrative proceeding and may obtain such declaratory relief, injunctive relief, and/or monetary damages as may properly be awarded by a court of competent jurisdiction. A person who prevails in any proceeding to enforce this section against a government entity may recover his reasonable costs and attorney's fees. Standing to assert a claim or defense under this section shall be governed by the general rule of standing under Article VI of the Constitution of Virginia. The provisions of this subsection relating to attorney's fees shall not apply to criminal prosecutions.
F. Any person found by a court with jurisdiction over the action to have abused the protections of this section by filing a frivolous or fraudulent claim may be assessed the government entity's court costs, if any, and may be enjoined from filing further claims under this section without leave of court.
G. No provision of this section shall be construed to afford any rights to any person incarcerated or detained in a state, regional, local or federal correctional, detention or penal facility, whether or not such facility is (i) located in the Commonwealth or (ii) operated pursuant to the Corrections Private Management Act. However, this subsection shall not be construed to prevent an incarcerated person from exercising any other constitutional or statutory right relating to the free exercise of religion.
H. A person who alleges that the free exercise of his religion has been substantially burdened in violation of this section shall notify, in writing, the chief executive officer of the government entity of the alleged violation, stating the factual basis for the claim and the relief requested. Within sixty days of receipt of such claim, the government entity shall investigate the alleged violation and respond to such person in writing. Thereafter, such person may assert the alleged violation as a claim in any equitable proceeding and the court may grant appropriate relief, including attorney's fees.

Constitution of Virginia
Bill of Rights

Section 16. Free exercise of religion; no establishment of religion.

That religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and, therefore, all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other. No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain their opinions in matters of religion, and the same shall in nowise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities. And the General Assembly shall not prescribe any religious test whatever, or confer any peculiar privileges or advantages on any sect or denomination, or pass any law requiring or authorizing any religious society, or the people of any district within this Commonwealth, to levy on themselves or others, any tax for the erection or repair of any house of public worship, or for the support of any church or ministry; but it shall be left free to every person to select his religious instructor, and to make for his support such private contract as he shall please.

What can we do in regards to the property, our home we rent? He did say it was ok to use the building for donation storage and drop off. We can continue to have our Hawaiian Luau on Nov. 1st as an awareness function. We can still have our homeless Night in A Box on Nov. 1st (this is open to all who would like to participate.) We can have people over for Thanksgiving and Christmas (Adopt-a-Homeless Person for Christmas.)

So, here again I state who has the right to choose our friends and who has the right to go against our religious freedom? What do you think? Email at helpthehomeless@cox.net


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