Breaking News
More () »

Gastonia ministry, city leaders at odds over homeless encampment

The city of Gastonia is suing Faith, Hope, and Love Community Enrichment for violating several city ordinances.

GASTONIA, N.C. — A Gastonia church off North Oakland Street, which is a campground and home to dozens of homeless people, is facing legal trouble.

The city of Gastonia is suing Faith, Hope, and Love Community Enrichment Ministries, Inc. for failing to comply with several ordinances. City leaders said they don’t have a problem with the ministry serving the homeless population, they just want them to follow the rules.

Meanwhile, ministry leadership said they are serving people in need and need support from the city, instead of roadblocks and fines.

“It could easily be me,” said Pastor Moses Colbert. “I had a couple of brothers pass away from being caught up in drug activity and I will never forget them. This is one way to always remember them.”

Colbert has been serving the homeless population for 20 years by providing food, clothing, and shelter on the church’s campus.

Linda Fralick is among the people helped by the ministry. She said she’s been living in a tent on the property for the last six months.

“I get nourishment here, I get shelter, I get love and understanding,” she said while eating a meal prepared by the ministry. “If I was on the road I would probably be dead.”

For the latest breaking news, weather and traffic alerts, download the WCNC Charlotte mobile app and enable push notifications.

Gastonia City Councilman Robert Kellogg said the city partners with several non-profits to help serve the homeless population and they all must stay in compliance to operate.

“As a city, we cannot play favorites, we cannot choose who can follow the law and who cannot,” he said. “At the beginning, there was a timeframe where you can pay the fine and come and talk but none of that happened, so now it has turned into a legal case.”

The city alleges in its suit that the ministry is in violation of city ordinances, and Kellogg said the biggest issue involves construction trailers placed on the lot with no permits.

“Part of the challenge is they are not handicap accessible; they need a ramp. They are not tied down and they need to be secured,” said Kellogg. “They were just placed in the middle of the driveway without any kind of placement that would be appropriate.”

Colbert, however, said the trailers were donated and will help serve the need.

“We want to use them for education, we want to use them for substance abuse training,” he said. “We want to use them for life skill training because a lot of these people have lost a lot of the motor skills that most of us take for granted.”

You can stream WCNC Charlotte on Roku and Amazon Fire TV, just download the free app.

Colbert claims he didn’t receive notifications about the violation issues and is working on getting the permits completed despite various roadblocks he said they face. Meanwhile, the ministry is now facing thousands of dollars in fines.

Due to the delays - and until they are in compliance - they face anywhere from $100-300 per day in fines. Colbert said those fines have surpassed $60,000.

Councilman Kellog also said the church is also violating city regulations because of the trash and debris found on the property.

“They’ll call it trash but it is their belongings. It is everything they have,” said Monica Colbert, the pastor’s wife. “Mind you we are going to clean it up and it will look better, but it will still be a tent.”

The Colberts said about 100 people live on their campus. They add many of them have nowhere to go, with some suffering from mental illness or drug addiction, or are out of jail and struggling to get back on their feet.

City leaders are also questioning safety for the group, noting there were more than 300 emergency calls within a year’s timeframe at the church since June of last year.

The Gastonia Police Department confirmed 317 calls for service from June 1, 2022, to June 5, 2023. EMS responded 81 times, firefighters responded 50 times, and police officers responded 289 times. Most calls involved one or more agencies responding to the same call. There were 23 calls for an overdose or Narcan service and 13 mental health/involuntary commitment calls.

“I do know there is a growing concern about the safety of the individuals who are on that property -- the people using the tents behind the church,” Kellogg said.

The Colberts said they are doing everything they can to keep the lot clean, adding the campers also help.

“We have a quality control meeting every day and we try to keep them on board," said Moses Colbert, "because we don’t want this place shut down because we have trash all over the place."

Kellogg said homelessness is a major in the city and they support efforts to help this population legally. He said it comes down to the well-being of those campers.

“Are these folks properly cared for? Are they able to receive the services that they need?” asked Kellogg, who adds the city has tried to work with the church. “A lot of the issues that he faces, and the fines and all of these legalities could have been prevented by him if he went down the proper channels.”

Contact Jesse Pierre at jpierrepet@wcnc.com or follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

WCNC Charlotte is part of the Charlotte Journalism Collaborative (CJC), launched by the Solutions Journalism Network with funding from the Knight Foundation. The CJC strengthens the local news ecosystem and increases opportunities for engagement. It is supported by a combination of local and national grants and sponsorships. For more information, visit charlottejournalism.org.  

This story is part of ‘I Can’t Afford to Live Here,’ a collaborative reporting project focused on solutions to the affordable housing crisis in Charlotte. WCNC Charlotte is committed to reporting on the issues facing the communities we serve, including affordability. We tell the stories of people working to solve persistent social problems. We examine how problems can be solved or addressed to improve the quality of life and make a positive difference. WCNC Charlotte is seeking solutions for you by providing the following assistance programs in Charlotte: 


Before You Leave, Check This Out