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Denison UCC Files Appeal To Continue Operating As Cold-Weather Shelter

The church says it will prepare building plans to show compliance with the requirements of shelter use. [Google Maps]
The front entrance to Denison United Church of Christ

Denison United Church of Christ has appealed to Cleveland's Board of Building Standards and Building Appeals to continue operating as a cold-weather homeless shelter.

The appeal comes after Cleveland officials issued the church a cease use notice on Christmas Eve. The notice called for the church to fix a list of fire code violations, including adding emergency lighting, exit signs and fire extinguishers. Each citation will be assessed by an architect, according to the appeal.

The church has already addressed other issues, including putting away improperly stored flammable liquids and removing items obstructing exits, said Pastor Nozomi Ikuta. It also will assess the feasibility of a new fire alarm system, Ikuta said, and employees are present every night to operate as a fire watch in the meantime.

“Things can happen anywhere, but we’re very mindful,” Ikuta said. “We would feel terrible if, while trying to protect people from freezing, we put them at risk of something else.”

The cease use notice also called for Denison UCC to get “a temporary R-1 transient use application,” which would allow temporary overnight occupancy at the church for 180 days. Denison UCC objected to that part of the citation in the appeal, as providing shelter is consistent with its mission as a religious institution. But the church says it will prepare building plans to show compliance with the requirements of shelter use.

Denison UCC started housing those in need in November, in a partnership with The Metanoia Project, an organization that operates the shelter at St. Malachi. The St. Malachi facility had to lower its bed count due to safety concerns, and Denison UCC agreed to accept overflow.

Denison UCC has received donations and support from the community following the cease use notice, Ikuta said, including more than 500 letters sent to city officials. The church, along with The Metanoia Project and Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, is calling for community members to contact Cleveland City Council and Mayor Frank Jackson’s office to voice support for the shelter program.

“We’re not, I think, able to resolve this among and within ourselves at this point,” Ikuta said. “But the goal is for resolution.”

A sit-in is planned ahead of Monday’s city council meeting to show support for Denison UCC.

Representatives from the city were not available for comment.