Shelter Begins Fingerprinting to Stay Open

by Alex Grabtree

The First Southern Baptist Church in Orange County, California reached an agreement with the city of Buena Park to keep their shelter open in exchange for fingerprinting all people seeking shelter. The FSBC is organized by the Rev. Wiley S. Drake, who, as previously reported, was convicted of misdemeanor violations of Buena Park’s law against sheltering the homeless on church grounds. On December 22, he began busing his overnight residents to the Buena Park Police Department to be fingerprinted.

            In the Los Angeles Times city officials described the agreement between the church and the city to keep the shelter open. Greg Beaubien, the Buena Park Director of Finance, was reported to say in the Los Angeles Times, “Both parties sat down and negotiated a set of guidelines for the Here’s Hope Ministry, the church’s ministry to the homeless. To fully operate a homeless shelter, the church needs a conditional-use permit from the city.”

            Rev. Drake said that the recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court striking down the National Religious Freedom Restoration Act would have protected the church’s ability to shelter people. RiFRA, as it was known, protected churches from local ordinances which restricted the church from carrying out their mission. Congress may attempt to pass an amendment to the constitution to protect churches from local regulations.

            The fingerprinting was done voluntarily by the church as a way to keep the shelter doors open. Rev. Drake said, “They turned down our conditional use permit until we adopted the manual of operations that the other shelters use and that they would approve of. We sat down and worked out the details of the manual. One of the details of the manual was the fingerprinting.

            “People don’t want to be dragged down to the police station and have to go through being fingerprinted.” He described the fingerprinting as “early German Gestapo tactics”

            After the first two weeks, the fingerprinting is not working. Drake said, “When we went (to the police station) we had agreed to do the fingerprinting, and they asked the residents to sign two other waivers.” Half of the people refused to sign the waivers, and so the police refused to do the fingerprinting. The first waiver said that they were not entitled to the information retrieved by the fingerprint check. The second waiver said that the police could do anything that they wanted with the fingerprint check.

            Drake characterized the waivers as “an invasion of privacy and unconstitutional.” He said, “So far we haven’t heard from the city. Basically we left it at ‘my attorney will talk to your attorney.’”

            Rev. Drake described the people using the shelter as residents of Buena Park, some members of the church, and some are street people.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published 1998 Issue 24