Wiley Drake fights to reopen church homeless shelter

BUENA PARK, Calif. (BP) -- Southern Baptist pastor Wiley Drake is seeking a restraining order against three city officials in Buena Park, Calif., after the city condemned and shut down his church's homeless shelter Feb. 9.

An external view of the homeless shelter at First Southern Baptist Church in Buena Park, Calif., shows the door shuttered after city officials condemned the facility as unsafe for occupancy.
Screen capture from The Wiley Drake Show
Drake, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Buena Park, was given a March 3 court date when he applied for the restraining order hours after the city shuttered the 52-bed shelter for code violations that Drake disputes. The city cited the shelter for a hazardous electrical system and said the shelter lacks proper emergency exits, certified fire alarms and certified smoke detectors, according to the Orange County Register.

Drake seeks restraining orders against Police Chief Corey S. Sianez, Building and Safety Manager Brian Hadley, and Community Development Director Joel Rosen, and is seeking pro bono legal representation in advance of the March 3 court date.

"We hope we'll be able to reopen the building," Drake told Baptist Press today (Feb. 10). "We're a small Southern Baptist church and don't have much money."

About 15 people who were living in the shelter spent the night in First Southern Baptist's sanctuary, Drake said, and most of them have been offered temporary housing in other shelters.

Drake doesn't buy the city's argument that the shelter is unsafe, he said, because it's the same shelter the city gave an occupancy permit in 1999 for use as a temporary dormitory. The building has a sprinkler system and a fire alarm, Drake said.

"The building has been in compliance since 1999 and you didn't say anything. Why all of a sudden now?" Wiley posed. "The building is not a pretty building. It's a modular building but it is not unsafe.... The city indeed has condemned it, red-tagged it, whatever they call it."

City officials have said last year's deadly Oakland warehouse fire encouraged them to be more diligent in ensuring facility safety, the Orange County Register reported.

"Our first and foremost responsibility is the safety of the residents," the Register quoted Buena Park Councilwoman Virginia Vaughn. "It really has been a group effort to go in there as calmly and as professionally and as caring as possible. Really, that's what it's all about."

The shelter opened in 1999 in modular buildings that were donated to the church. It remained open as Drake sought unsuccessfully to build a permanent shelter, and city officials periodically renewed its occupancy permit over the past 17 years, the Register said.

The church at one point had plans in place to construct a permanent facility, Drake said, but was denied a building permit because the church didn't have funds on hand to complete construction. The shelter, offering housing, showers, meals, Bible study and worship, has been a source of evangelism sparking numerous salvations over the years, Drake said.

First Southern Baptist currently has about 50 active members. Drake, who served as Southern Baptist Convention second vice president in 2006-2007, hosts The Wiley Drake Show, a daily television talk show available on U-Stream.

Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' general assignment writer/editor. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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