A Delaware pastor could be facing up to $100 in daily fines for helping the homeless.
Victory Church Pastor Aaron Appling, a reported passionate advocate for the homeless, bought a $10,500 camper in September for blind and pregnant 21-year-old Alexis Simms to live in while in between homes, Delaware State News reports. The RV, which Simms shares with her mother and 22-year-olddaughter, was parked on church property behind the building and was the third RV on the site.
On Oct. 11, scarcely a month later, the Delaware church received a notice that the camper violated Kent County zoning code and must be removed from the property.
"Part of our religious belief and faith is to help the poor,” Appling told WMDT. “They're punishing us for doing what we feel we're commanded to according to our faith."
The county’s issue is that the church property is zoned as an agricultural residential district (AR), which only allows for conditional use as a commercial recreational campground if special approval is given, WBOC reports. According to officials, the RV for Simms doesn’t have such approval.
"It is possible to create a commercial recreational campground at the property with the proper approvals. The purpose of the approvals is to ensure that the health and safety of occupants of the campground, neighbors, and the public at large, is covered," Kia Evans, a county spokeswoman, told WBOC.
Evans told Delaware State News that officials met at the church in July to discuss the possibility of a campground and group home for the local homeless population. However, Appling said the church could not afford the cumulative $100,00 in fees it would take to procure a conditional use permit and was looking into getting engineering work done pro-bono.
“We plan to appeal, which gives us some time,” Appling said to Delaware State News. “I’m not going to pay any fines and I as a pastor and church believe that.”
Residents from the surrounding area told WCAU they’re pleased the county is looking into issues at the church, in light of Appling’s “Tiny Homes” project to house homeless families on the property’s five-acre campground. Neighbors said they had no objections to organizations helping the homeless, but that criminal activity and excessively loud noise have increased in the area since Appling and the church took an interest in the local homeless population.
"The zoning department is basically doing the job they were intended to do,” said Tom Farrington, who lives next to the church. “I mean this has been going on for a while."
When asked to comment by WBOC, Simms expressed disappointment that the church is being punished for Appling’s humanitarian efforts.
"It's not just me that's homeless. There's thousands of us and we want help,” she said. “We're not contagious. We're human people and we're here."