Residents speak out about church's plans to help homeless

Grace Fellowship looks to turn home into temporary housing for homeless

By Lisa Bell - Anchor

ROCKLEDGE, Fla. - A central Florida church wants to open their doors to help homeless families, but some neighbors are saying "not in our backyard."

Many neighbors said they are worried that Grace Fellowship Church's act of kindness could put their safety in jeopardy.

The Rockledge church wants the city to allow mixed-use at two homes it owns along Murrell Road just east of I-95.

Residents packed a Rockledge Planning Commission meeting Tuesday night to speak out about plans to allow transitional housing for homeless people in what has been a residential area.

"Well, if this did result in more crime in neighborhoods, I'd be one of the first to say this is done," said Grace Fellowship Pastor Mike Bynum. "We would stop it."

Bynum said the number of homeless families in Brevard County has skyrocketed during the recession. He said there are currently about 1,000 homeless children enrolled in Brevard County Schools.

To combat the problem, Grace Fellowship wants to turn one home on Murrell Road into temporary housing for homeless families. Another home next door would be used for other church functions and to assist the families during business hours.

For years, the property was zoned rural residential, but it was recently annexed into the city and the church now wants it classified as mixed-use.

"Most facilities in the county have places for women and children, and then the men are in another location," said Bynum. "At this time of crisis, we need to keep the families together."

Up to five homeless families-- with no more than 14 people total-- would be allowed to live in the home for one week, once every three months.

The rest of the time, the house would be used for other church activities.

Grace Fellowship Church is part of a larger non-profit organization, Family Promise of Brevard, which helps homeless families. There are about a dozen churches that would host homeless families for one week, allowing them to cycle through until they're able to get back on their feet.

People living near the Murrell Road homes, however, are concerned allowing the zoning change will lead to higher crime and lower property values.

"We want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem," said Bynum. "If it did turn that way, we'd shut it down immediately."

The measure allowing mixed use passed the Rockledge Planning Commission 8-2. It will now go before the full Rockledge city council on Feb. 20.

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