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April 30, 2013

Salem fire code dispute impacts homeless

Fire code woes stall homeless shelters in churches

SALEM — A disagreement over compliance with the town fire code is preventing three homeless families from staying at Triumphant Cross Lutheran Church as planned.

Last night, 14 homeless people, including several children, had to stay at Calvary Bible Church in Derry. They cannot sleep at Triumphant Cross or two other Salem churches until the congregations comply with fire regulations, according to fire Chief Kevin Breen.

"We understand their sense of urgency and that they exist to help people in need," Breen said yesterday. "Unless they have met the codes, we can't allow them to have occupancy."

Breen said the churches have known since December that hosting families without significant safety upgrades, including the installation of sprinkler systems, would violate fire regulations.

Family Promise of Greater Rockingham County also was notified by the state fire marshal's office in January that the churches would have to meet safety requirements, Breen said.

But Triumphant Cross council member Richard Hartung, also a Hampstead selectman, said Breen didn't make it clear until two weeks ago that the families could not stay at the churches unless the chief waived the fire sprinkler requirement.

The churches are among 20 Southern New Hampshire congregations that would host homeless families at 11 area churches, including at least three in Salem, as part of a network operated by Family Promise.

The network began sheltering families in late February. A day center opened at Calvary Bible Church to give the families a place to look for jobs and apartments, and have meals while the children go to school. At night, the families sleep and share dinner at a rotation of churches for a week at a time.

This week, the families would have stayed at Triumphant Cross, Pastor David Yasenka said.

But there is a dispute over why the families can't stay in Salem.

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