Judge says Phoenix church cannot feed homeless

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PHOENIX -- It's one of the many good deeds for which churches are known, but now a judge has ruled that feeding the homeless is against the law. The ruling is against CrossRoads United Methodist Church in north-central Phoenix and it says that the church is operating as a charity dining hall, which breaks a city zoning ordinance.

The area where the church is located -- Central and Northern avenues -- is zoned as primarily residential. Charity dining halls are considered businesses.

The controversy swirling around the church's weekly pancake worship service started last spring when neighbors complained about an increase in the number of homeless people in the neighborhood, panhandling, burglary, public intoxication and vandalism, among other things.

"We can minister to the poor ... that’s a given," wrote Rev. Dottie Escobedo-Frank on the CrossRoads Web site. "We can hold a worship service for them out on the front lawn. We just can’t feed them. We can’t fill their bellies with warm food. We might as well just go to the street corners and start handing out money, in hopes they will make their way to some food, because you are not allowed to do it at church!"

The decision affects all churches that are located in Phoenix residential areas.

CrossRoads, which maintains that it is operating as a church and not a charity dining hall, plans to appeal the decision. They have until Nov. 24 to do that.