Alcoholics Anonymous left homeless in Paso Robles
Support groups will need to find a new meeting place by February 2017
–Leaders at St. James Episcopal Church will stop hosting meetings for Alcoholics Anonymous and similar support groups after being pressured by the city and receiving complaints about the meetings from neighbors.
Paso Robles city officials met with parishioners at the church earlier this year advising them the group meetings are “non-church” activities and require a special permit.
The church asked the Paso Robles Planning Commission for a conditional use permit on Nov. 8. The commission heard from church members in favor of the permit and neighbors opposed to it. Neighbors Mark Brown and Brian Bengard complained about parking on the street, noise of people talking, and hours of operation.
The commission declined to approve the permit and instead asked for mediation between parishioners and neighbors. But, after one mediation session, church leaders decided to stop hosting the support meetings at the end of Feb. 2017.
Saint James’ currently hosts 27 weekly meetings for Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Al-Anon, and Overeaters Anonymous. In addition, lunch was served for the hungry of Paso Robles. The church, founded in 1891, has hosted AA meetings since 1949.
“When faced with the inevitable fact that a significant number of meetings would possibly be minimized due to the permit requirement, we decided to withdraw our application and help the groups find other venues for their meetings,” said Corporate Secretary Michael Coffin for the church and a member of the church council.
“We felt it wouldn’t be fair to limit the number of meetings any particular group could host, or limit which groups could host meetings in general. As a church we don’t want to be in the position to deny meetings that are important for supporting people. We decided to help the groups find space where they can meet as often as they need rather than force them into a schedule with us that won’t be workable.”
“Addiction does not have a time clock, when they need a meeting they need a meeting,” said Coffin. “This is a great opportunity for community organizing. This will bring the council people and the city members together to help our community. Some groups have already reached out to the city to find new locations and they are all actively working to find new meeting locations by February.”
Planning Commission Chairman Bob Rollins, who recommended mediation, said, “This is really unfortunate as there is a very real need for someone or someplace in the city to accommodate these meetings. It is an important issue for these people and I suspect that maybe it is better to divide up the meetings, so that the burden would not be on one facility to host all weekly meetings.”
Neighbor Mark Brown was pleased with the outcome. “The situation has been resolved, by talks being done closely and directly between the church and residents, with support of the city… without dissent and with everyone involved on good working terms,” he said.
Statement from St. James Episcopal Church’s permit application
“Meeting both the spiritual and temporal needs of Paso Robles defines the mission of our church and harkens to the most basic social responsibility that we as citizens are called to provide: basic care for each other. This mission must also be carried out with our dual responsibility to be a good neighbor to those with whom we share our geographical location. It is a balancing act that requires all parties to work closely together in the efforts to help those in need and to provide a safe and healthy neighborhood for all.
Through attention to facility use (including entrance/exit of attendees), parking considerations, and hours of use, we believe Saint James’ is being a responsible neighbor and still providing for the vital needs of our community. We look forward to working closely with our neighbors and city government to be a beacon of hope for our friends and families in need for generations to come.”
The support groups are currently seeking new locations to host the meetings. If you know of a suitable location, the church encourages you to contact their office at (805) 238-0819 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. They will pass the information on to the groups.