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Church Withdraws Plans to Open a Homeless Shelter on Property

First Assembly of God Church decides against opening a homeless shelter on site after community uproar

The First Assembly of God Church decided last week to withdraw its application to the Township to open and run a homeless shelter on the church premises, at Cedar Grove Road and Bay Avenue in Toms River.

The shelter, to be called the “Lodge,” would have acted as a temporary residence for 40-50 homeless men and women for three months at a time.

Pastor Paul Gifford began the planning of the shelter in early 2011 with other advocates for the homeless, and as the plans progressed the church recently notified nearby neighbors that the application to open the shelter had been filed and upcoming planning meetings were being scheduled.

“It isn’t a question of helping the homeless,” said Pastor Gifford, "but rather, how to help them and where to help them.”

After the notifications were sent to church neighbors, several residents expressed concerns with the plans, saying it would change the character of the neighborhood.

The church, following township code, did properly notify the homes within 200 feet of the church regarding plans for the shelter, but based on advice from their attorney, Pastor Gifford decided to hold an open forum community meeting with residents outside of the 200-foot radius, to present their plans and their objectives in creating the shelter at the church.

The question of “where” is the main concern of the community near the church.

“The program is fine, it is good,” said a resident of the Twin Oaks neighborhood just a few blocks from the Church, “but it doesn’t belong in a residential neighborhood like ours.”

The resident, who declined to give his name, said they and other neighbors were also concerned that there was no clear criteria that proposed residents of the Lodge would have to meet. “The church didn’t really give us clear answers at the community meeting.”

Pastor Gifford, speaking for himself and his church, said he needed three things to be achieved before he would proceed with the plan to open a shelter. First was Congregational approval to proceed further; Second was ensuring that the mission of the Lodge would be supported by the city, state and federal government; and Third, that the residential community would embrace the vision of the Lodge.

While the congregation endorsed the idea, and the government codes would be followed, the response from the community did not coincide with the vision, Gifford said.

“We achieved number 1 and number 2,” said Pastor Gifford, “but with number 3 we had a stand-off.”

Pastor Gifford said his idea of community is not just the few homes around his church or his congregation, but it is the community as a whole — including the greater surrounding area.

Though Bay Avenue is a busy residential corridor, many surrounding off-streets are quieter cul-de-sacs and Cedar Grove Elementary School is nearby.

“My heart and passion is the community,” said Pastor Gifford, “and at the open forum meeting on February 11, hearing the questions and concerns from over 100 of my fellow community members, I knew my church wasn’t the perfect location for the Lodge and few days after that meeting we decided to withdraw our application with the Township.”

Even though Pastor Gifford and the board were met with concern and some anger from community residents at the open forum meeting, he said there was also a sense of genuine concern voiced by the residents for the plight of the homeless and the mission of the Lodge, “but they just didn’t want it in their backyard,” said Pastor Gifford.

Addressing the needs of the homeless in Toms River and throughout Ocean County is a topic that continues to be argued by homeless advocates, who say there is a general lack of facilities in the county. The idea of Lodge-style possibilities was brought up at a forum discussion held at Ocean County Library, March 28, 2011.

The Lodge would have been housed in the Youth Ministry building behind the church and through grants and donations would help rehabilitate the homeless residents by providing medical attention, legal counseling, mental health support, job skills and transportation for a period of three months after which the residents would check-out with skills hopefully to help keep them employed and not homeless, Gifford said. Security patrols and surveillance would occur 24 hours a day and each resident would have to adhere to drug testing prior to being allowed at the Lodge.

But what wasn’t made clear to the community was the type of homeless people that would be allowed to stay at the Lodge.

“We never got a good answer to that,” said the resident of Twin Oaks, “we have a lot of kids around here walking to and from Cedar Grove Elementary, young mothers jogging with their baby strollers, and families; we don’t know what type of history or issues these homeless people will bring with them to our neighborhood. Are they drug addicts or did they just lose their house due to the economy?”

Pastor Gifford said that the criteria for residents of the Lodge was not explained as clearly as it could have been during the open forum meeting.

“We don’t feel defeated though,” said Pastor Gifford. “People believe in the mission of the Lodge, but it just won’t be at our church and in this community. We do embrace the community involvement and will push forward with finding a new location.”


. February 26, 2012 at 05:02 AM
I am not afraid to admit that I don't want a homeless shelter in my area! My family has had a home since the day it was built near the Bell Crest Mall, before there even was a Bell Crest Mall and that is the last thing that area needs. I am not saying that I don't feel sorry for the homeless. We donate all of the time to the tent city in Lakewood, but most of the homeless don't want to live in a shelter, just ask the residents of tent city in Lakewood. Unfortunately, what we need is to get some business back in the Bell Crest Mall and some other empty stores to create jobs to keep people from being homeless.
Bob Smith February 26, 2012 at 05:18 AM
The derelicts as you call them are still human beings or have you forgotten that. Where is the compassion gone? people are so self centered... You never know what the future holds and all of you people who are against this shelter could be the one who need shelter.
barbara February 26, 2012 at 03:45 PM
Very well said, Bob. Reading back on your previous comment, i want to applaud you for helping the starving people in Ethiopia. I received via my e-mail 3 horrible comments from Reality 1, which Patch did not post and I am glad they did not. It is funny how Reality 1 all of a sudden gets in on this converation, when Allen Tiger puts tweety bird in place. Coincidence? LOL anyway, the Pastor explained to me via email the plans for this project and the eligibility requirements. People really know to need the facts before they judge this Pastor. I so wish his program gets off the ground. it is not a homeless program for sure, it is a program for people who need help. If it ever opens and is located close to me i would definitely consider volunteering. Hats off to the Pastor!
tweetiexx February 26, 2012 at 04:37 PM
@Barbara...Oh boy do you have a vivid imagination. No moron put me in my place; your giving that crackpot Allen S. Tiger too much credit. Also there is NO WAY anyone sent you an email especially since there is no way to get your email unless YOU published it. Now that I'm aware of this deplorable situation I will make it a point to be at all town council meetings with all my friends, family and neighbors to make sure these types of facilities are NEVER opened in Toms River. This "pastor" can take them all home with him. Matter of fact lets send a few home with YOU.
barbara February 26, 2012 at 05:26 PM
yes, tweetie i did get an email from the pastor. see above comments where he asked for my address. he laid out all the truthful details to me. You should not put down the pastor and community till you know the facts. enough said......as a matter of fact, i would welcome anyone in my home for a hot meal. geesh. do the community a favor and dont attend the next meeting if there is one, cause obviously your are closed minded. enough. i will not reply to any more of your posts.
tweetiexx February 26, 2012 at 05:36 PM
"I received via my e-mail 3 horrible comments from Reality 1," did you forgot what you've written? Dementia setting in? Believe me, me and all my friends and neighbors will be at any and ALL town council & freeholder meetings to make sure our quality of life is kept to a high standard. That mean NO HOMELESS SHELTERS IN TOMS RIVER. You may call it "closed minded" I call it preserving the Toms River quality of life. I promise I will not shed a tear if you don't answer my posts.....LOL
Mark Wendell February 26, 2012 at 06:21 PM
I certainly never would wish someone being homeless but after standing by and watching this I'm changing my mind. To blatantly sit there and rip into people who are homeless calling all homeless drug users, kid touchers or other things in disgusting. It amazes me that people will move into Ocean County from up North and move behind a Foodtown and don't think that will lower their home values but having a small shelter at an church will. To sit there and say that you will attend every township committee meeting and say that you will make sure that NO homeless shelter will be anywhere in Toms River at all is disgusting. You say this is to "protect" YOUR neighborhoods but now your "protecting" the whole town. Anyone who thinks the woods camps are just in Lakewood and that they are not all ready in the woods along your neighborhoods is dreaming. Better not to see the problem? Tea Party values at work.
tweetiexx February 26, 2012 at 06:46 PM
@Mark Wendell Take them home with you. I'm sorry if I offended anyone but quality of life is important for us Toms River citizens. If they want to live in the woods, so be it.
Bob Smith February 26, 2012 at 07:32 PM
your what one would call a very selfish introspective person who only cares about what you want and not the needs of others. Well if the whole country is going this route then we really are going to hell... lock stock and barrel
Bob Smith February 26, 2012 at 07:32 PM
its is really sad to read such things. You really have to wonder what moral fabric if any some of these people have.
Mark Wendell February 26, 2012 at 07:35 PM
No one knows if any property values would be affected one bit. Take them home with me? a comment like that solves nothing and shows what kind of person you are. Do you think they want to live in the woods in Lakewood, the woods next to Friendly's on RT37, the woods next to the OTB on RT 37, the woods next to the GSP on Lakehurst Road. What does having people living in the woods do to property values they are already all around you. We have families living in there cars while their old homes sit there rotting in neighborhoods all over Ocean County. What does that do to you property values?
Mark Wendell February 26, 2012 at 07:52 PM
Bob Smith--- You are right. One would think that having a church in your neighborhood with a committed pastor that helps its neighbors would be an asset to the community and not hurt but maybe help property values. In other areas of this country they have government run shelters all over. I salute this pastor for trying to do good work and help those who need it and for bringing attention to this problem. I wish him good luck in this endeavor. Maybe more house's of worship no matter its religion can come together work with Ocean Counties local governments and pool resource's and knowledge and get something done. I think moving the homeless out of the area and away from jobs is not going to help the problem one bit.
barbara February 26, 2012 at 07:55 PM
so agree, Mark. i remember when Harbor House came to our neighborhood and all residents were concerned about their property value. did no affect it. harbor house is a safehaven for these kids with problems. i agree, the posts that were delted were disgusting, and if these people from up north coming here dont like it, well they should stay up north. they dont know the facts. it is not a homeless shelter. no, the woods are not in lakewood, they are also in toms river. i remember a guy, kids always called him "space man" i belive (or if not correct name maybe i have dementia) who lived in the wood for many years off garfield ave. if these "people" and their friends go to next meeting, i certainly hope there is security there to throw their butts out. sickens me.
barbara February 26, 2012 at 08:03 PM
no moron has to put you in your place. geesh......u are a moron.
barbara February 26, 2012 at 08:05 PM
only one word and i am done - moron!
barbara February 26, 2012 at 08:08 PM
i agree Mark......dont even think this issue is on the agenda for township agenda..........geesh........maybe these northerners who have no compassion should have stayed up north.......loved ur commet.
barbara February 26, 2012 at 08:12 PM
so true mark, show what kind person she is..... i would galdly have a homeless person in my home for an nice bowl of macaroni........lol
Mark Wendell February 26, 2012 at 08:45 PM
barbara, Thank You. Growing up we had a few homeless Korea and Vietnam vets living in or around my town. We also had names that we called them like plastic bag man and mister Jamesway. Some of them showed up at the Little League games and wandered over to the concession stand were they used the money they got from handouts to get coffee or hot dogs. They never bothered anyone or touched kids to my knowledge. They were always treated with respect and were given the handouts without asking for them. I always felt bad for them but I was always told that they were sick and refused help and wanted to stay in the woods or under the bridge on RT 9 that some of them stayed. I remember taking some provisions to them when I was in HS and the guy I went over to was more interested in the plastic bags we had than the food and soap. The township of Lakewood gave them a warm shower now and again. It was sad but without mental health help they were going no where. This has changed for the most part. Families are homeless because of the economy, working people lost their homes, People lost the jobs they had because of no fault of their own. Some in the mix because of drugs? I'm sure there are but they need help to. To say that they are all there in the woods because they are drug users or child molesters is unreal and shows a total lack of knowledge regarding the current homeless problem. If they think there is no drugs in the neighborhood already.................
Allen S. Tiger February 26, 2012 at 10:43 PM
Hi Barbara I've been reading through all the blogs and see that you are now in a fencing match with tweetiexx. Do yourself a favor and forget about tweetiexx. She is obviously a nut job. Her 'involvement' in this issue is obviously just for kicks. She shows her own stupidity by calling others names and mocking others that she disagrees with. This is truly juvenile, if not actually infantile. Instead of acting like an intelligent adult and taking sides to an issue in a grown-up manner, she needs to create this confrontational ambiance. Just read her trash and you can see it for yourself. Enough said!
barbara February 27, 2012 at 01:42 AM
thanks mark, allen and bob. you are true people and good people, just like me. we have feelings. SHE is so uncompassionat.......will try to not feed into her negativeness. I live in a community where alot of older people need help. I take care of my neighboors. Even if it is just bringing them a container of chicken soup or macaroni, it makes me feel good. No, they are not homeless, but they are alone. i try help all when i can and gives me a great feeling of self worth..
Mark Wendell February 27, 2012 at 02:28 AM
Barbra, winters can be tough on people who are older and alone even with a roof over their head. You never know if their heat is on or if they have been able to get food or needed medicines. You go and feel good and keep working. The little things that you do can mean a world of difference to someone in need even if its some warm soup and friendship on a cold day. I saw drivers yelling at a man who stands near the new Shop Rite in Toms River on RT 166 with a sign that I can never quite read but I think it says something like "Homeless will work for food". Yelling at people who will work for food, isn't that what the hard people always say? Get a job! That's what this guy is trying to do and they still yell.
Mattie February 27, 2012 at 12:42 PM
I saw that man for the very first time just last week, Mark. I came around the jug handle to cross over Rt 37 and drive up 166 towards the new Shop-Rite entrance when I realized he was standing on the curb there- leaning up on a road sign not 8 ft from me at the red light. I was surprised at how young he was-- this was no "crazy guy" with scraggly beard or wild eyes. This was a young man no more than maybe 30, standing still as a statue with a look of desperation and depression on his face. He did not make eye contact, and he was not actively "begging" for money or handouts. He simply held his sign, and smoked his cigarette and looked cold and uncomfortable. That's a pretty long red light, and believe me, except for blinking his eyes and seeing his breath in the bitter cold air, he didn't move a muscle. I had absolutely no cash on me at all, or I would have given him some money.... it was a sight that stayed with me all day. I would have been unbelievably appalled had I heard anyone yelling at him or abusing him in any way! There would have been a throw down at that light had that happened! People are so twisted and mean spirited sometimes
Mattie February 27, 2012 at 01:06 PM
maybe someone GAVE him some cigarettes, you dolt. I knew the second I typed "smoking his cigarette" some ahole would jump on that and criticize. Here's a fact for you... assume someone gave him the cigarette or a few cigarettes.... did you know smoking cigarettes will temporarily kill hunger pains and pangs? Yes, it does. Ask any pretty, very skinny, well paid model or ballerina.... and by the way, this guy was also pretty darn thin. Want to assume now he was a junkie too? Loser.
Project Bluebeam February 27, 2012 at 01:15 PM
Ballerinas wouldn't be ale to perform if they were coughing and wheezing all the time. And how many "well-paid models" have tobacco-stained teeth?
Mark Wendell February 27, 2012 at 01:15 PM
Mattie, I have seen him a few times. He was standing like you say very still and it was a pouring rain and the ink on his sign was running down.
Mattie February 27, 2012 at 05:13 PM
Bluebeam, you don't get out (from under your rock) much, do you? Coffee & cigarettes is the well known (infamous) diet of many anorexics, and those who go to great lengths not to eat often or much - for whatever reason. I've known both models and ballet dancers in my time and smoking was an aid for them and many of their friends in the business. Contrary to what you might believe, Bluebeam, you don't have a clue.
Ally McBeal May 27, 2012 at 09:03 AM
The neighborhood is entitled to its opinion. Its not selfish to want to protect what you value and care for, like your family and its safety. My idiot friend, when he was down on his luck, finally invited into his house the homeless guy that had been sleeping in his backyard. Not a night went by that money wasn't disappearing from his wallet, despite the fact that my friend would give this guy money and smokes, fed him, and allowed him a place to sleep. Wasn't good enough. Then, homeless guy starts bringing his 'street employed' 'girlfriends' around. Next thing I hear, there's any amount of drug use and bizarre behaviors going on. And money continually disappearing. And more acquaintances of acquaintances showing up where they know there's money and food, and a submissive, passive individual who won't prosecute anyone. When he would attempt to confront individuals about his missing money and other things, he was subsequently beaten up and has suffered concussions 3 different times. This is the joys of doing what some consider the Lord's work and bringing a homeless individual under your wing in trying to help. They are desperate and you cannot fix them.
Carol Aller May 27, 2012 at 06:45 PM
I agree the township needs to get on this. It is way past time. Not all homeless people are druggies and derelicts....some are children, mothers; families that have been left homeless through no fault of their own. It is on the rise and if a shelter of some kind IS in a church, it would not be like the "mission" in Atlantic City. The two aren't even comparable. I agree the location is not idea transportation wise, but that's ALL. "There but for the grace of God, go I." We need to remember that.
barbara May 27, 2012 at 06:49 PM
well said carol......i agree. know someone who is going thru this right now. single mom, sad, can't get help. oh by the way, there are two barbaras on here. i will call myself barb 1.
Wanda Jones December 16, 2012 at 07:33 PM
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.'(John 3:16) "For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many."(Mark 10:45) Psa.50:12 says for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof. God says all of it belongs to Him, we own nothing. God says, the earth is His's. He said, "The heaven is My throne, and the earth is My foot-stool: where is the house that ye build unto Me? and where is the place of My rest"? For all those things hath Mine hand made, and all those things have been, Saith the Lord. We may not agree on all things. But what we can all agree on is that all humans have their opinion right/wrong and we all do not have to agree but we should be able to respect one another. Because at the end of the day we all feel as though we are good people but in all actualality we all fall short their are no 100% humans on the planet. There's room enough for all of us to grow. at the end of the day all we need is LOVE nothing speaks louder than /stonger than/powerful than/harder than is Love. We can agree to disagree without being disrespectful. Our children do as we do not as we say. Anybody can hate or be nasty, or mean but it takes guts to love the un loveable. name calling, belittling, bite biting, tearing/pulling down one another take so much work. hurt folk, hurts folk we can get our point across without being nasty


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