Area residents are in a struggle with organization’s mission
BY NANCY SHIELDS, COASTAL MONMOUTH BUREAU
ASBURY PARK â€” A gospel rescue mission seeking to operate a 40-bed homeless shelter in the city has been ordered by the state to stop providing alcohol- and drug-addiction services at its longtime shelter in Morristown because it is not licensed to do so, a lawyer said last week.
Ron Gasiorowski, the lawyer for Asbury Park residents fighting Market Street Mission’s plans for a shelter on Memorial Drive, read a cease-and-desist letter from the state Department of Human Services at a city zoning board meeting Thursday night.
“Do you think you’re above the law?” Gasiorowski asked David Scott, the executive director of Market Street Mission.
“No,” Scott answered, but at the same time made it clear that he does not believe his shelter needs to be licensed. He said it is a church-state issue.
Scott blamed Gasiorowski for bringing the state down on him in the first place. The letter was dated Feb. 22, the day of the hearing. Scott told city zoners he would cooperate to the extent that state officials would see that the licensing does not apply to his mission work.
City zoners initially turned down the application for what is to be called the Jersey Shore Rescue Mission in 2005, but Market Street appealed and Superior Court Judge Alexander Lehrer found that such a shelter for 40 men, along with its programs, had an inherently beneficial use for Asbury Park.
The case was remanded to the city zoning board, whose members in March 2006 approved the shelter with certain conditions. Last summer, residents who live near the red brick building on Memorial Drive between Sewall and Asbury avenues built a strong opposition group that filed a lawsuit appealing the zoning approval.
The City Council joined those residents with a friend-of-the-court brief. Lehrer remanded the case once again for the zoning board to hear limited aspects pertaining to Scott testifying that the mission has a beneficial use, and in particular, that his shelter has been a “blessing” for Morristown.
Zoners â€” who will meet on the case at 7 p.m. March 20 â€” can uphold their approval, make certain changes, or deny the applicant, before the case goes back to Lehrer.
Scott, in the meantime, obtained a temporary certificate of occupancy from Asbury Park and opened the new shelter in January. But in another twist, the fire department closed the shelter last week because there was no sprinkler system on the second floor where the 40 beds for the homeless men are located.
Gasiorowski’s new information about the state determining the longtime Market Street Mission now needing to be licensed for its alcohol- and drug-addiction work raises new questions about the regulation of faith-based groups that almost certainly will continue to be heard in the Asbury case.
“Feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, counseling the addicted,” was how Market Street’s attorney Brendan Judge described the group’s mission to the city zoners.
The mission will provide a place to sleep for 37 men, 10 of whom are in a long-term program with the shelter. Twenty-seven men can sleep there each night, but for no more than 10 nights in a row. Three of the beds are for staff members.
Each morning, the 27 men not in the mission’s program will be released to the city streets, where Scott said they’ll be encouraged to seek other services to help them with such issues as jobs and health matters.
Scott has strong support from some local religious leaders, evangelical groups, and perennial fighters for the homeless.
“We’re going to try to help people regardless of problems in their lives,” Scott said during the hearing.
But he is strongly opposed by residents who do not believe the mission is regulated properly and will bring many more homeless, unemployed people to a city that had been the longtime dumping ground for the poor, until overtaxed residents started saying no.
Specifically, Stand Up For Asbury group members say they are concerned that the mission does not properly screen its applicants to keep sex offenders and criminals out.
Another point of contention is that Asbury is a city that the gay community stepped forward to help revive â€” but the mission, according to Scott, believes gays and lesbians require treatment for a sexual addiction.
For his part, Gasiorowski made it clear he is pursuing the state’s cease-and-desist order in court, and that he believes “any agency that is providing primary substance abuse services must be licensed by the Department of Human Services.”
He said a licensed treatment facility is a prohibited use in both the Morristown and Asbury locations, and that Market Street has avoided that prohibited use “by not being licensed.”
“All I’m going to talk about is alcohol, drug addiction, no screening, back on the streets,” Gasiorowski vowed. “. . . these facilities do not work well in a residential area.”