At lunch I was having a conversation about the different churches sheltering Katrina evacuees in our area. One of my companions said that one of her daughter's friends who recently did some volunteering at Bethel Ministries asked her how Bethel Ministries (see post) could manage to shelter 60 people and our church did not. The youngster pointed out that Bethel is a poor congregation compared to our church and its facilities need some repairs while ours are much newer and in excellent shape.
Another person at the table observed that the problem lay not in the desire of our church to be a shelter but in the local municipal fire and safety ordinances. Since our church doesn't have showers and lacks other things that these ordinances require for shelters (never mind the area to person ratios that are required), the city fire marshall would order us to close a shelter in a heartbeat. And that's no joke: our preschool and elementary school are constantly being inspected by the local fire marshall and his minions.
Bethel, on the other hand, is located in a municipal "no-man's land" between two suburban municipalities. There is no city government to pass or enforce health and safety ordinances. By the same token, services are limited to those provided by the county. So Bethel can open up their buildings and house these evacuees with impunity. But we can't.
I'm sure none of us would want to do away with fire, health and safety codes. But it does make you wonder if there shouldn't be a way to relax them temporarily when faced with an emergency such as the one created by Katrina and the evacuees from New Orleans.
I know, I know --the first time some shelter that didn't meet these codes caught on fire and someone died or was injured the trial lawyers of the world would sue the city and the church and probably destroy the church in the process. Sigh.
It just shouldn't be this difficult to do the right thing.