Plano Is Threatening to Close a Women's Shelter Because It Shelters Too Many Women [Updated]
See update at bottom.Agape is a Christian organization that lends crisis housing support to women, their children and unaccompanied children in need. They provide shelter to homeless women and children, as well as community ministry and counseling. They operate out of four residential homes as Household Care Facilities, according to the city of Plano.
But a Plano city ordinance decrees that no more than eight people, and two caregivers, reside in a single home. And because Agape facilities are in a residential home, the number of women and children being housed, plus Agape members, often exceeds that limit. The City of Plano issued a cease and desist order to Agape, with the promise to close its doors if Agape does not comply.
Agape has cried foul: Liberty Institute and attorney Kirte Kinser have threatened to sue the city on behalf of Agape, saying Plano is in violation of the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, and the constitutional first amendment.
Agape representatives could not be reached for comment, but their website stresses that women's domestic violence and homeless shelters are currently full and struggling to meet demand. This includes Hope's Door and Peaceful Oasis, which can each only accommodate 22 women and children at a time.
The city of Plano has said that several complaints on code violations prompted the cease and desist, and that the Property Standards Department is currently investigating the allegations.
"The city of Plano values the outreach of Agape ministry in the assistance they provide for women and children in crisis," Plano spokesman Steve Stoler said in a statement. "The city has been in contact with the Agape legal counsel and clarified there is not a ban on counseling and ministry services as long as they are complying with code requirements."
The Agape legal team has delivered a demand letter to the city of Plano in response to the housing cease and desist. Agape plans to move forward with legal action if the city does not drop the ban by noon on Thursday.
Update, Wednesday, 4:30 p.m.: The City of Plano has rescinded its original letter to Agape, which had ordered a cease and desist of activities.
"The letter [from City of Plano] should not have been sent," said media spokesman Steve Stoler. "We're okay with them doing what they're doing as long as they're following city ordinances."
Stoler was adamant that the City of Plano never issued a ban on Agape's activities, even though Agape used the word "ban" to describe the notice from the city. "Everybody seemed to make it sound like there was a ban in place, and that's just not true ... the city never banned them from doing anything. What Liberty [Institute, Agape's legal team] is saying is that the city is banning them from doing activities there. There is no ban, there was never a ban in place."