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Fire, building code violations prompt closing of Gainesville homeless shelter
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A homeless shelter in the Gainesville Market/Blue Ridge Shopping Center off Shallowford Road was operating illegally for months, with loads of fire and building code violations being ignored. - photo by Austin Steele

A shelter for homeless individuals and families in Gainesville has been shuttered after city fire and building inspectors discovered it was operating without proper permitting and in violation of several safety codes.

About 20 or more homeless residents of the facility had to vacate earlier this month, and it is unclear whether the shelter will ever reopen.

David Trent, pastor of Kingdom Harvest World Ministry, took possession of a vacant building in a derelict strip mall off Shallowford Road near the Target and Walmart in Gainesville last summer.

The property, once a movie theater, had most previously housed a Catholic church largely serving a Latino demographic on the city’s west side.

Gainesville Fire Marshal Chad Payne told The Times in an email that a site inspection of the property was conducted last August and “the tenant was given a list of fire code violations that needed to be corrected.”

But, Payne added, it was inspected under the auspices that it would be used only as a church.

“There was no mention of a group home,” Payne said.

In an article published in The Times in October, Trent said he had planned to open a daycare center as part of the church, but then his desire shifted to establish a shelter, primarily for women and children.

Over the course of several months, both women and men were welcomed into the shelter.

Payne said that only in recent weeks was the fire department alerted to the fact that individuals were sleeping at the location when “one of the fire inspectors was in the area and noticed people just standing outside.”

“None of the violations from the previous inspection were corrected and no certificate of occupancy was ever issued,” Payne added.

Joe Davidson, a building official in the city’s inspection services division, said fire officials alerted him to the unlicensed occupancy of the property, and code enforcement conducted their own inspection on Jan. 7.

Davidson said Trent had failed to acquire an occupancy permit to operate a church, much less a shelter.

“We went through this before” with him, Davidson said, adding that Trent had applied and received an occupancy permit for a church on Athens Street in Gainesville last summer before moving locations. “He knew the process and he knew that he was violating what we require.”

Several calls to Trent seeking comment went unanswered this week.

The property off Shallowford Road had been modified with walls to separate sleeping quarters for women and men, and the kitchen had been utilized with no approval, while plumbing and electrical work had also been performed without proper oversight, according to Davidson.

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David Trent, pastor at Kingdom Harvest World Ministry, stands out front of the Gainesville ministry on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele

Moreover, the sprinkler system was not fully functional, he added.  

“If there was a massive fire there, they’d think no one was in the building because they’re not supposed to be there,” Davidson said.

Trent and his own family were also living on the premises.  

“He was told in no uncertain terms that no one could be staying there, including himself,” Davidson said.

The property is zoned for a group home, but in order to operate as such, Payne said, plans will need to be submitted “because it is a total change of use (from a church) and it is a set of different codes.”

Davidson said building and code inspectors are waiting for Trent “to submit some type of plans or documents to proceed with what he wants to do.”

City officials have pinpointed the strip mall location as desirable for redevelopment, even including it in a newly established tax allocation district, which are ostensibly designed to spur redevelopment and raise property values.

According to the city’s website, “In simple terms, the increased property taxes that would be generated by a development’s improvements are temporarily used to fund those improvements. Once the improvements are paid for, a development’s taxes are then distributed traditionally.”

“The long-term use of the property is for commercial purposes and I believe the property will be redeveloped at some point in the future,” Gainesville Planning Manager Matt Tate told The Times last fall.

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