An Ohio pastor who was criminally charged last month for housing homeless people in his church has had the charges dropped after reaching an agreement with the city, it was announced Thursday.
Pastor Chris Avell of Dad’s Place reached a deal with the city of Bryan that will see him “cease residential operations” while obtaining proper building certifications and zoning permits, his attorneys said in a joint statement with the city.
“We are grateful that the city of Bryan has dropped the criminal charges against Pastor Avell,” said attorney Jeremy Dys with the religious freedom group First Liberty, which is representing Avell. “We will continue our conversations with city officials in hopes that we can find a final resolution where Dad’s Place can continue to serve those in need in its community.”
Chris Avell, the pastor of Dad's Place in Bryan, Ohio, faced criminal charges after he gave homeless people shelter overnight in a building that the city said was not zoned for it.
Avell pleaded not guilty to 18 zoning law violation charges last month after refusing to turn overnight guests away from his church, which is next door to a homeless shelter with a small number of beds.
The city said Avell’s church was not properly zoned for residential usage, and that serious fire code violations were found throughout the building during repeat inspections.
Shortly afterward, Dad’s Place filed a federal lawsuit against the city, accusing officials of violating the church’s constitutional rights. The lawsuit has not been withdrawn from the court system.
Dad’s Place church remains committed to continuing its ministry 24 hours a day for those who need temporary shelter.Attorney Jeremy Dys, with the religious freedom group First Liberty
Dys told HuffPost on Friday that all of the safety issues reported by the city in Dad’s Place have been fixed. Dys said he could not offer more detail due to an agreement with the city, but he said the church, which he previously described to HuffPost as housing a dozen or more people a night, remains open for people in need.
“Dad’s Place church remains committed to continuing its ministry 24 hours a day for those who need temporary shelter,” he said.
In the statement released by both parties, Avell expressed gratitude for the charges being dropped.
“I am thankful to God, the city, and for everyone who has been praying for this day to come,” he said. “Bryan is my home. I am eager to continue to serve God, my community, and the people I love.”
Bryan Mayor Carrie Schlade, in her own statement, expressed appreciation for all parties’ willingness “to resolve the parties’ differences amicably and to ensure that the services provided by Dad’s Place are delivered in a safe manner.”