Colorado Town Tries to Shutter Church Homeless Ministry

AP Photo/David Zalubowski

A common complaint among secularists is that churches tend to talk about serving others but rarely engage in it. That, say the secularists, is evidence of Christian hypocrisy. As they do so, they ignore the many examples of Christians actively caring for the poor and the dispossessed.


The Rock, a non-denominational church in Castle Rock, Colo., has filed suit against the city. It has also filed a motion for a preliminary injunction. The Rock operates a temporary, transitional housing program for people in need of shelter. The city of Castle Rock is trying to shut the effort down. You may be tempted to think of this as one of the many open-air tent cities across the country, rife with drugs, prostitution, and other forms of crime. The exact opposite is true. 

I spoke with attorney Jeremy Dys, the Senior Counsel for the First Liberty Institute, the organization representing The Rock. Dys explained that The Rock sits on 54 acres of land. It operates a large-scale food pantry and a "blessing closet" and provides emergency shelter during the winter and times of crisis. It has even partnered with the Red Cross. 

Castle Rock, an upper-middle-class community, has no resources for such things. The homeless facility consists of a camp trailer and an RV that are used as temporary transitional shelters. The church conducts background checks on those it houses, and those people are given counseling and resources to get back on their feet. 

Dys mentioned a man whose truck broke down during a blizzard. He would have frozen to death, but the church was able to offer him shelter. Subsequently, people at The Rock helped the man find full-time employment in Denver. Dys estimates that around 15 people have made use of the shelters since last December. 


Dys said that the city received complaints about the camper and RV alongside demands that the program be shut down. Dys noted that the two structures are visible from perhaps three homes in the neighborhood. Despite The Rock's track record of community service, the city wants the shelter program stopped. 

The city has shown that it means business. The complaint states that a Christian coffee shop called "Lost Coffee" had planned to sell its coffee through The Rock's on-campus coffee shop "Lighthouse Coffee." According to Dys, the city has threatened to pull Lost Coffee's license if it does not terminate its operation with the church.  

In a press release, Dys commented:

Churches that take action to care for the homeless should be encouraged and affirmed, not opposed and retaliated against. It’s not enough for the town to try to stop this church from using its property to provide temporary shelter to displaced single moms and their children.  The town is also trying to prevent the church from partnering with the Red Cross in times of emergency.

For Dys and the First Liberty Institute, the issue is about more than governmental overreach and a case of NIMBY. It is about the First Amendment. Dys told me that Castle Rock is attempting to force The Rock to cease and desist from pursuing its core mission. He added that the First Amendment means something and cannot be dismissed when a municipality says, "Because I said so." He added that the city will need to provide a reason for infringing on the church's right to the free expression of religion.


Is Dys correct about this ministry being an example of the First Amendment's clause regarding the free exercise of religion? Well, The Rock is a Christian church and follows the Bible. And the Bible has quite a bit to say about helping those in need.

For instance, Proverbs 21:13 states, "Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered.” Proverbs 28:27 warns, “Those who give to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to them receive many curses.” In Mark 10, Jesus tells a wealthy man, “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 

Jesus also mentions compassion and charity in Matthew 25:31-46 and Luke 6:30. The second chapter of the Epistle of James is quite clear about the Christian obligation to charity and how it is inextricably interwoven with faith.

So yes, caring for the poor is part of practicing one's Christian faith. The Rock's pastor, Mike Polhemus, stated:

Our mission is to transform society by loving others as Christ loved us.  This includes providing such a level of outreach and aid to the surrounding community that, if we ever close our doors, the entire community would feel our church’s absence. It’s shocking that the town is preventing us from providing temporary shelter and wrap-around assistance to people who are in their greatest need, thus helping to reduce homelessness in our community.


Dys said that Castle Rock is not alone and that he is dealing with similar cases in Ohio, New Hampshire, and Hawaii. It would appear that the cities in question do not want to see a "church solution" to the issue of homelessness. Perhaps they prefer a government solution or to kick the proverbial can down the road.


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