Pastor Moses Colbert, who is the pastor of Faith, Hope, and Love Community Enrichment Ministry, has been feeding homeless people in Gastonia, North Carolina for over 20 years. Moses Colbert has been an important part of his community by implementing what the Scriptures say about caring for the poor. He is now embroiled in an ongoing legal battle against the local government and politicians who are trying to stop his work.
Despite the many obstacles and opposition from local authorities in his way, Pastor Colbert is steadfast in pursuing his mission of providing shelter, support, and a feeling of hope to those who are in need. In our conversation, I got to know the pastor and learned about his work, the struggles of the homeless, and his vision for the future.
The situation began at the end of 2019 just before the COVID-19 pandemic. Colbert said that the situation “got really intense” during this time, and he felt compelled to “step up and do something to preserve human life.”
In late 2019, his church opened “Uptown Shelter” in Gastonia after he heard from another minister how desperate the situation was for the people of the community. He decided to extend his efforts in order to feed, house, and clothe the homeless.
Colbert said “….it took a while for the [shelter to] catch on, but it did work and everything. Then after we got everything going well…I believe we were keeping about 60 in the basement of the church in the fellowship hall.”
A homeless older man fell ill and the emergency services were called. The fire marshal took pictures and said, “You don’t even have a sprinkler system.”
Colbert explained the building’s age, and that it was not equipped with a sprinkler. The marshal said he could not keep the homeless in that building, even though the pastor had noted “it is freezing outside and these people will freeze to death.”
Pastor Colbert had to close his business, and sadly, one homeless man died from a frozen death in the street. He said that in fact, 10 people had died of opioid overdoses in a span of one week. Colbert then organized a protest march against the city for its treatment of homeless residents, which the city didn’t appreciate. Colbert’s ministry was forced to move out of another location by the local government, which led them to purchase a new building.
Members of the community then offered to purchase two trailers for the church to house the homeless. The city initially prohibited the homeless from staying on church property, but relented and allowed them to stay so long as they weren’t indoors. Even this was not acceptable to city officials who were looking for other reasons to criticize Colbert’s ministry. Colbert stated that the city fined him $54,000 for a single day.
The fines were imposed by the city because these trailers were intended to be used as a means of education and rehabilitation among homeless people.
He said that they only could have hit the organization with the illegally parked trailers. The city had denied the permit numerous times. When they paid their previous fines, they discovered that the city had added $54,000. The fines were accompanied by a warning that Colbert would be taken to court for non-payment and the homeless people would also be removed from the camp.
The pastor remembered that the city added more obstacles each time he attempted to bring the trailers into compliance:
They are always adding new stuff. Initially, it was only the trailers. It’s now a lot of things they want us to do. It’s fine. We don’t mind doing it. As we speak, we’re working on it. People are waiting in line to bring their trailers into compliance.
We will underpin the trailers. They want ramps for the trailers. They want to achieve everything on their list. We will do everything to comply with their wishes.
The scary part is that they continue to slap us with these fines. It’s not fair because we now take care of the majority of homeless people in Gastonia.
The pastor explained to us that the city would not even send officers to the camp to ensure its safety. He said, “They want private security for us.”
Pastor Colbert, as it stands now, is waiting on a hearing where he hopes that the judge will waive $54,000 of zoning fines to allow him to operate his ministry in Gastonia. He is not alone.
The ministry of Pastor Moses Colbert in Gastonia, North Carolina. (Credit Pastor Moses Colbert. Used with permission.
Libertarian Party members from the area have come out to show their support for the pastor and his ministry. Spike Cohen is a former Libertarian Vice Presidential candidate and founder and activist group You Are The Power. He has helped to bring attention to the current situation between Pastor Colbert, the city, and Spike Cohen.
Cohen mentioned Robert Kellogg during our conversation. Robert Kellogg is a Gastonia City Council member who is running for Mayor. The official was among the loudest voices opposing Pastor Colbert’s efforts to help the homeless.
Cohen stated that “they want a crisis to be able to make a grandstand and gain more funding from taxpayers and the government.” “You can’t do that if you don’t have a problem to solve.”
He said: “We’ve seen it multiple times, including in his social media where Kellogg, and some other members, have stated flatly…their goal to just run him out.”
Cohen and others believe that the city wants to prevent Colbert from running his ministry in order to create a crisis of homelessness they can use for political gain and to position themselves as those who will solve the problem. While they are adamant in their attacks on the pastor, there is little they can do to offer solutions.
“I don’t think they will do anything until there are large numbers of deaths,” Cohen stated that they wanted a crisis.
Mike Ross, the Libertarian candidate for governor of North Carolina, has been involved with this situation from the start. He tried to resolve the issue on several occasions by speaking with Kellogg, and other council members. Ross said that during lunch, the official spoke in typical politician terms about “it having to be up-to-code and we want to make it a safe place.”
Ross did not agree with this reasoning given the weather conditions of the day. Ross said, “Instead of letting the homeless sleep in this nice warm, heated building, because it is unsafe, we are going to make them sleep outdoors in 19-degree temperatures,” “So, please forgive me for not listening to the politicians’ speeches and excuses.”
Pastor Colbert will be heard on August 7.