Brunswick County officials to allow churches to shelter homeless, under two conditions

Published: Mar. 3, 2015 at 11:28 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 7, 2015 at 11:29 PM EST
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BRUNSWICK COUNTY, NC (WECT) - Brunswick County officials will allow county churches to act as temporary homeless shelters under two conditions.

According to a press release, Reggie Hucks, chief building inspector for Brunswick County, says the county fire marshal's office will allow churches to function as homeless shelters on "infrequent occasions such as, but not limited to, extreme cold weather."

Churches will also have to give the Brunswick County Fire Marshal's Office advanced notice.

Many Brunswick County pastors are upset that county officials recently began stepping in and preventing churches from opening their doors to the homeless.

"All of a sudden last year, even though law enforcement and all of Brunswick County officials have been aware that we have been doing this inside the church facilities, we start getting calls from the building inspector's office that we are in violation, that we have to follow the codes of an overflow shelter," explained Reverend Donna Phelps.

Phelps is part of the Brunswick County Streetreach program where different churches are on call for one week out of the year to house the homeless from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. during extreme cold. The program runs from November 1 to March 1.

The main sticking point between the churches and county officials was Section 424 in the North Carolina Building Code. It states that a "temporary overflow shelter" as "a shelter that provides temporary overflow accommodations from an approved homeless shelter."

Since there are no permanent homeless shelters in Brunswick County, any church that allows people to sleep in it would have to do a "change of occupancy" to residential. This would mean a new set of rules would apply.

"After considerable discussion with the North Carolina Department of Insurance, it has been determined that Section 105 of the North Carolina Administrative Code could be employed if churches were housing the homeless on a very limited basis," Hucks explained in the release.

Section 105 states that "an alternative material, design or method of construction shall be approved where the code enforcement official finds that the proposed alternative material, design, or method of construction complies with the intent and provisions of the technical codes."

Hucks explains that the county fire marshal's office developed the "alternate method" which will allow the churches to function as temporary homeless shelters, as long as the aforementioned prerequisites are met.

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