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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Georgia Shelter Confirms: Gay People Deserve to Be Homeless

By Michael A. Jones -

Elder Bobby Harris is the head of the House of Mercy homeless shelter in Columbus, Georgia. If you're homeless or in need, his religious shelter is there to offer you refuge. Unless, of course, you happen to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. If that's the case, Elder Bobby Harris has a few short words for you: "[Homosexuality] is not tolerated here at all."
So much for that Christian obligation to help all who are in need. At the House of Mercy, there's apparently a sexual orientation and gender identity litmus test.
Elder Harris spoke to WRBL in Columbus this week, after numerous activists (including over 1,000 members) wrote the shelter criticizing the House of Mercy's policy to deny gay homeless people shelter. Harris stuck to his guns, and reiterated his previous statement that the reason LGBT people weren't welcome at his center was because "of the Bible."
"Let me tell you one of the reasons why, because of the bible of course, and then we have little children that we won't have tolerate that kind of act here," Harris said.
Harris had previously said that LGBT people would receive service at House of Mercy, so long as they commit to changing their sexual orientation. He added that shelter staff would monitor such folks, to make sure that they don't engage in homosexual acts on or off shelter property.
Perhaps House of Mercy should consider a name change to House of Stalking the People We Serve.
In the new report by WRBL (which you can view below), the station notes that House of Mercy hasn't received any local or state grants since 2007. But as Alex Blaze uncovered at Bilerico, the House of Mercy sure looks like it receives some federal grant money, at least according to its 990 form. Moreover, Georgia's government approved a measure last year that earmarked $75,000 for the House of Mercy, via the state's Special Housing Initiatives program. That's an awful lot of taxpayer money to be giving a shelter that refuses to serve and shelter all who are in need.
Other shelters in Columbus have come out and said that they will not refuse service to anyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. One shelter staffer at a crisis center in the community even went so far to say that refusing LGBT homeless people service would be "revictimizing the victim."
Shouldn't these shelters -- shelters that truly serve all residents in the area, and don't force those in need to pass a litmus test that requires them to be heterosexual -- be the ones that receive state grant money? Send the Georgia Special Housing Initiatives office a message that their $75,000 earmark for House of Mercy would be better spent elsewhere in the community, at a shelter that doesn't treat LGBT homeless people as pariahs unworthy of assistance.

petition text -

Do not fund homeless shelters that discriminate against gays and lesbians

Dear Department of Community Affairs,

I recently learned that the Georgia state government has approved a $75,000 earmark for a homeless shelter in Columbus, Georgia, known as the House of Mercy shelter. According to the budget signed by Georgia's governor, this earmark is to be distributed by the Special Housing Initiatives section of the Department of Community Affairs. (See this link:,2668,78006749_160096907_160266268,00.html)

This concerns me deeply. The director of House of Mercy, Elder Bobby Harris, has gone on local television and openly said that his shelter will not serve openly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender homeless people. (See this link by Columbus TV-station WRBL:

According to Elder Harris: "[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 that we won't have tolerate that kind of act here."

The fact that a homeless shelter would refuse to serve someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity is upsetting and morally wrong. Other shelters in the Columbus area have said that they will not force those in need to pass a litmus test like this; yet the House of Mercy shelter continues to insist that it won't serve gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Simply put, shelters that discriminate like this should not be rewarded with $75,000 in taxpayer money. Other shelters that truly serve all, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, should be eligible for this fund.

I urge your office to condemn the House of Mercy's discriminatory practices, and to make sure that earmarks like this are spent at shelters that truly serve all in the community. The House of Mercy shelter should not be rewarded for telling an entire population of people that they deserve to be on the streets.

Thanks for your time.

[Your name here] 


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