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Pastor to Homeless Gets No Jail Time

Court: The Rev. Wiley Drake, whose housing for poor violated zoning laws, is credited for previous community service. Church must still relocate residents.

September 20, 1997|THAO HUA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

FULLERTON — A Southern Baptist preacher won't go to jail for allowing the homeless to live on church grounds in violation of city ordinances, but a judge Friday ordered his church to comply with local building codes.

Orange County Municipal Court Judge Gregg L. Prickett sentenced the Rev. Wiley Drake to 1,500 hours of community service, but immediately credited the pastor for his work with the needy. Drake was fined $100, which also was waived.

The judge ordered First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park to either move the homeless people from an enclosed patio and parking lot or build another structure.

"It is a shame in this day and age when it becomes necessary for a case like this to end up in criminal court," Prickett told a courtroom packed with Drake supporters, including four jurors from his trial.

The judge agreed that there is a need to help the homeless, but said the city of Buena Park has a duty to protect its citizens by upholding the law.

"That doesn't mean we stop helping people," said Prickett, who is involved in food distribution programs for the poor.

Drake expressed relief that he does not have to go to jail but said he will not oust the homeless people still living on church grounds.

And he continued to criticize city officials for what he calls their campaign to prevent him from doing God's work.

"This is an absolute atrocity," Drake said.

A jury convicted Drake and his church in July of four misdemeanor counts involving the illegal use of a patio and parking lot where about 75 homeless men, women and children are staying.

The pastor faced a maximum of two years in jail and a $4,000 fine.

Assistant City Prosecutor Gregory Palmer said during trial that the city is not against the pastor's efforts to help the poor, but objects to his disregard of the law.

Since his conviction, Drake and other church officials have submitted plans to the city to build a permanent structure behind the church. Drake also is a board member of Shelter First, a charity organization that helps find housing for the homeless and purchases and refurbishes motels to be used as shelters.

"We are working with [the city]," the pastor said. "But if it conflicts with the Bible, we're not going to do it."

The judge placed the church on probation for three years and ordered church officials to submit a progress report by Nov. 14. City officials said they would provide vouchers for motel rooms in an effort to help the church comply with codes.

Palmer said a new building would be "the best result I could have hoped for."

The prosecutor said he has received hate mail and death threats because of his role in the case. He hailed the judge's ruling Friday but remained skeptical about whether Drake will comply with the law.

"This is not over . . . not by a long shot," Palmer said. "As of tomorrow, [the church] will be violating probation if the homeless people are not removed."

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