Dundalk church that harbored homeless won't be fined after all

A Dundalk church that let homeless people sleep on the property won't be fined after all.

Baltimore County has dropped its plan to fine a Dundalk church for allowing homeless people to sleep on its property.

Patapsco United Methodist Church was facing a $12,000 fine for a code violation. Church officials had said that amounted to 10 percent of its annual budget.

Under an agreement worked out this week, the church won't have to pay the fine, in exchange for educating its homeless visitors about programs available to help them.

"Our aim in this was never punitive. It was always compliance and to find a middle ground," said Don Mohler, a county spokesman.

In recent weeks, county workers have visited the church to offer help to homeless people who have been sleeping outside the church on Wise Avenue, Mohler said.

The Rev. Katie Grover, church pastor, could not be reached for comment on the county's decision to drop the fine. She had said that by allowing the homeless onto church grounds, she was carrying out her duty to care for the needy.

The county had received complaints dating back to June that homeless people were sleeping, urinating and defecating outside the church.

Inspectors cited the church in late November for operating an unauthorized rooming or boardinghouse because of the homeless encampment. A hearing on the violation before a county administrative judge had been scheduled for Wednesday.

The church set up an online fundraising campaign to raise money for the potential fine — pledges had reached more than $1,500 as of Wednesday afternoon. The church will now use the money to "further our care for the poor and marginalized," according to a post on the church's website.

County Councilman Todd Crandell, a Dundalk Republican, said he's glad an agreement was reached.

"The church has its mission, and the community has their issues as well. You can certainly see both sides," he said. "I'm thankful that it worked out the way that it did."

Crandell said he plans to hold a meeting with county officials and church pastors in his area "to talk about the issue and make sure everyone's aware of the resources that are available."

The county has homeless shelters for men, women and families, and occasionally opens the North Point Government Center — down the street from the church — as an emergency freezing-weather shelter.

"We have a number of shelters and programs available to assist them so they don't have to stay out in the cold, and that's been our goal all along," Mohler said.

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