Break-in highlights homeless problem

A Salvation Army spokesman said that homelessness was a “critical issue” after a homeless man broke into a Hamilton church for food.

The spokesman said that church break-ins by homeless individuals were done out of desperation. He added that while these break-ins, while not common, had been on the rise.

The spokesman explained: “We really don’t have a history of securing our churches as well as we probably should because it has always been customary that people respect churches. Because of that, people don’t usually break in. However, that is no longer true.”

He added: “We must address this in a way that does not just help people through the day, but puts them in a place whereby they can and want to do something about themselves.

“That is going to take time because they didn’t get to this point overnight, so pulling out of it is not going to be overnight.”

He spoke after Richard Allen, 61, of no fixed abode, pleaded guilty in Magistrates’ Court yesterday to trespassing into Wesley Methodist Church with the intent to steal. The court heard that one of the church ministers found her office in disarray on May 11 and had suspected a break in.

A review of CCTV camera footage showed Allen breaking into the church and scanning through the office, although nothing appeared to be stolen.

She alerted administrative church staff and they called the police, who identified Allen and arrested him on June 18.

Allen admitted to the break-in during an interview with police. But he insisted that he was in search of food and only stole cookies from the church kitchen.

Senior magistrate Juan Wolffe heard that Allen struggled with mental health problems and required medication for his health. Mr Wolffe adjourned the case for Mental Health Court later that day.

David Steele, a reverend at the Wesley Methodist Church, said: “We, as a church, are very concerned with the needs of our community. This is why we run a food hamper programme out of the church to help feed the community.”

He added: “While we still have a responsibility for looking after the security of the building for our people, we certainly would do everything we can to help those in need.”

The spokesman urged anybody in need of help to talk with any local church pastor, as they are likely to hold charity drives.

He also invited people in need of food to visit the North Street Hall kitchen in town between 5pm - 6pm on any day but Wednesday and Sunday.

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