A church calls it the Lord's work. A Nashville businessman calls it a health and safety violation that is driving businesses away.
For the past year, a tent camp has been set up in the parking lot of the Green Street Church of Christ.
Church members refer to the make shift community as a sanctuary, however Bobby Joslin, a well-known business man, claims people are loitering and drinking alcohol during the day.
Joslin owns property in the area and told Nashville's News 2 Investigates that he expects to lose thousands of dollars this year because tenants are moving out due to the homeless camp.
“People are lying around during the day time, during work hours,” he said. “They have a multitude of codes violations and they seem to disregard the law.”
Nashville's News 2 Investigates visited the church with Joslin on Tuesday. Upon our arrival we see a man filling up a radiator container with water from a hose in the front of the church.
“They clean their dishes right there and they take their showers right there. Their baths,” Joslin said.
The camp is also filled with more than a dozen tents, grills, a clothesline, two port-a-potties and a makeshift meeting area beside the church with seats pulled out of vehicles.
“There are animals living better than the way these people live in these tents,” Joslin said, adding, “These are just renegades. They don't want to follow any rules or regulations.”
Nashville's News 2 Investigates spoke with a long time business owner who asked not to be identified.
He said he plans to relocate because the nearby camp is a constant eyesore.
“I'm embarrassed to bring clients here, having to explain all the time what is going on over there,” he said.
Attorney Tripp Hunt represents the more than 100-year-old church which was founded in part by David Lipscomb.
“We have a history of helping the homeless. One day some homeless asked if it was ok to put a tent here and as a ministry they said ok. They feel they do have an obligation to protect and keep the sanctuary to brethren camped out there now.”
He added, “According to the scripture, Matthew 25, if you help unfortunate or someone need shelter, you are helping Jesus. They say they have no other option under religious beliefs to help these people.”
According to Hunt, Joslin is the only businessman complaining about the tent camp. He also disputed his claims that Joslin is losing business due to the homeless on Green Street.
“They are here because it is one of the safest places to pitch a tent and escape the drugs and alcohol and sex and thefts,” Hunt said, adding, “The church board of deacons that run this sanctuary says if anyone is doing that, they are ejected. There is no other place to go that is not illegal for them and this church relies on religious views and has no choice.”
Hunt told News 2 Investigates an architect is currently designing a new building that will soon be attached to the church and will contain bathrooms and washing machines. A privacy fence is also in the works.
He added the church has no intention of removing the tent camp.
“So as long as people need sanctuary, the church will grant it,” Hunt said. “There is no plan on ending it.”
Nashville's News 2 Investigates contacted Metro Codes, Zoning and Health Departments after speaking with Joslin and Hunt.
Each agency said there are issues at the church that need correction.
Bill Herbert at the Metro Zoning Department said his agency is currently working with the church to correct safety and health violations such as cars parked on the car, people sleeping in vehicles and no fire extinguishers in areas where meals are prepared.
According to Herbert, tents are typically prohibited in industrial zones, which is where the church is located, but state and federal law gives more latitude to a church that is following mandate and doctrines of religious beliefs.
The Metro Health Department is also looking into issues at the camp. On April 4, inspectors noted concerns such as coffee pots designed for indoor use being used outside and ponding water from the hose which is a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
The Zoning Department reported the church has requested an additional 90 days to come into compliance with some zoning issues.
The legal department is currently evaluating the church's request for an extension.