THIS week, the temperature in Rockford, Illinois is expected to drop below 20 degrees. And yet the city has informed leaders at the Apostolic Pentecostals of Rockford church that they are no longer permitted to act as a temporary warming centre and homeless shelter because they do not have the adequate zoning permits.
David Frederick, the owner of the church, said that he was warned by city officials that if he kept opening his doors to the city’s homeless, he would be doing so illegally. It’s unclear if the city is prepared to levy any kind of penalty against the church if they ignore the warning.
“The people that came to the centre have feelings just like everyone else, and they need their necessities. food, water, shelter, and love. They were able to get it all here, and now they can’t,” said Thomas Sterling, a worker at the church.
Cities across the US have been cracking down on both the homeless and those who have tried to offer relief. In Raleigh, a church group was threatened with arrest for trying to provide dozens of free meals and hot coffee to the city’s homeless, and an Indiana restaurant was forced to end its practice of serving up free meals every Thursday by the city after neighboring businesses complained about the presence of poor people nearby.
The situation in Illinois is the latest example of a growing trend in municipalities across the country: the criminalization of homelessness as opposed to taking steps to address the fundamental problems that lead to it. Cities have shown a willingness to jail their homeless population rather than provide things like housing even though it is more expensive, while others have made it nearly impossible for outside groups to provide services for the poor that remain on the streets.