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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Georgia Homeless Shelter Refuses to Serve Gay People

By Michael A. Jones -

The House of Mercy homeless shelter in Columbus, Georgia, might want to go back and read their Bible. There's a passage in Isaiah they should pay particular attention to: "Share your bread with the hungry, take the homeless into your homes, clothe the naked when you see him/her, do not turn away from people in need."
But instead of following that line, the House of Mercy shelter has a rule on its books: if you're gay and homeless, you belong on the streets. Perhaps House of Mercy might consider a name change to House of Ignorance.
The CBS station in Columbus, WRBL, ran a story last week discussing two women who were booted out of the House of Mercy homeless shelter, because shelter staff thought they were gay. These were women who actually fled abusive homes, and as one of them told WRBL, she was expecting to be treated with compassion by the folks at House of Mercy.
"I was hoping that just by the name ... I was hoping for security," one of the women said. Instead, the woman says the way she was treated at the House of Mercy was unholy. "It was not a place of God."
The director of House of Mercy, Elder Bobby Harris, told WRBL that "practicing" gay people aren't welcome at his shelter, no matter how in need they might be.
"[Homosexuality] is not tolerated here at all. Let me tell you one reason why: because of the Bible, of course. And then we have little children ... We believe that Christ can change all. But when they begin to practice their acts," Harris says, there's nothing he can do for gay people in need.
Harris did not say where in the Bible Jesus gave permission to cast LGBT people out into the street, or refuse them service if they're needy or, in the case of these two women, fleeing violent homes. WRBL reached out to other homeless shelters in the area, and found that not a one, outside of House of Mercy, excludes gay people from being served. They interviewed Valerie McLain, who works at the Crisis Center of Russell County, and she told reporters that homeless shelters should be in the business of serving all who come through their doors, and not revictimizing those in need.
"We welcome anyone that is a victim. That's who we serve. We have no discrimination. We make no discrimination with anyone. We're not in the business of revictimizing the victim," McLain said.
Sounds like the House of Mercy not only needs to re-read their Bible, but they could also stand to learn a few lessons in service from other shelters in the area.
Meanwhile, here's the real kicker: the two women at the center of this controversy? They say they're not even gay, which means that the House of Mercy denied them service based on rumors or bad information. Still, one of the women told WRBL that even if she was gay, she would hope a homeless shelter would have enough compassion to help her out.
"If I was gay, and I had all these other issues and I came [to the House of Mercy], is that what you do to people going through stuff?" she asked.
Apparently so. How about sending the House of Mercy a message that this policy of excluding gay people is not only inconsiderate, it runs counter to the supposed religious teachings they hold dear. Check out the story below from WRBL for more information, and to see Elder Bobby Harris actually say on camera that it's his Christian duty to deny homeless gay people service.

petition text -
House of Mercy should serve all in need

Dear House of Mercy,

I am deeply dismayed to hear that your organization has a policy that requires you to refuse service to gay homeless people. While I understand that you operate under very strict religious beliefs, it does not seem very compassionate to deny services to people in need, just because of who they love or how they were born.

Every other homeless shelter in your region has gone on record saying that they will not discriminate against gays, lesbians, bisexuals or transgender people when it comes to providing service and care to people in need. The House of Mercy should make this pledge, too.

Shelters are charged with caring for people at some of their most vulnerable hours. It saddens me to hear that the House of Mercy would turn people away, when they need help the most, just because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. That's not only inconsiderate, it's also contrary to the very religious principles your organization holds dear.

Thank you for your time.

[Your name here] 



  1. It is listed as a non-profit corporation on the Georgia Sec of State Web site. I am trying to find something regarding laws effecting such charities. HoM claims to be a "private charity." If they are incorporated under IRS code 501(c)(3), they are subject to the same rules as any other charity. They are listed as "A public charity with a 50% deductibility limitation" at the IRS.gove charity search.

  2. The title in each post here takes you to the original source of the information presented, maybe go to the petition site and let them know what you find out. I'm sure there are folks there who would be grateful to know what you manage to dig up. Thanks for following up on this and please come back and fill us in with any follow-up information. Thanks so much.