Church faces neighborhood backlash against group home

Cumberland County church faces neighborhood backlash against group home

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"The people that's moved to Meridian for the safety, now they don't feel the same," neighbor Rita Martin told the crowd. "The people that's moved to Meridian for the safety, now they don't feel the same," neighbor Rita Martin told the crowd.
"We're supposed to love one another. We're supposed to take care of one another," Meridian Baptist Church Pastor Mike Garrett told the crowd of church members and neighbors gathered for the informational meeting Wednesday night. "We're supposed to love one another. We're supposed to take care of one another," Meridian Baptist Church Pastor Mike Garrett told the crowd of church members and neighbors gathered for the informational meeting Wednesday night.
"Once they get control of the building, things could snowball and we could have sex offenders and everything here right in the middle of a residential neighborhood," said neighbor Dustin Kunkel. "Once they get control of the building, things could snowball and we could have sex offenders and everything here right in the middle of a residential neighborhood," said neighbor Dustin Kunkel.

By JILL MCNEAL
6 News Anchor/Reporter

CROSSVILLE (WATE) - A local church wants to lease one of their empty buildings to a group home, but the community is pushing back.

We got a call from a concerned neighbor in the Meridian community of Cumberland County, asking us to come to a church meeting there Wednesday night.

Neighbors living near Meridian Baptist Church had a lot of questions about this so-called "transitional living center" for women coming out of rehab, so we took those questions to the church pastor.

"We're supposed to love one another. We're supposed to take care of one another," Meridian Baptist Church Pastor Mike Garrett told the crowd of church members and neighbors gathered for the informational meeting Wednesday night.

He said he never expected this negative response from his community.

"The people that's moved to Meridian for the safety, now they don't feel the same," neighbor Rita Martin told the crowd.

Some neighbors even put a digital billboard in their driveway, warning others of what they say is a danger to the community.

"Once they get control of the building, things could snowball and we could have sex offenders and everything here right in the middle of a residential neighborhood," said neighbor Dustin Kunkel.

Pastor Garrett told 6 News this facility would only ever house non-violent women, and that Meridian isn't as safe right now as some want to believe.

"There are many sex offenders who live within five miles of where we are right now. I break up drug deals in our parking lot about twice a year," he said.

Pastor Garrett said this home will be a place only for those willing to work hard for a better life.

"In a community like ours, change is very difficult. We're very set in our ways, but not all change is bad, especially when you can lift somebody out of the mud and help them become productive," Garrett said.

Opponents say that's fine, just not in their backyard.

"Let the members who are for it take these people in, take them and put them in their house," Kunkel said.

Active church members, about 150 people, will vote Sunday after church services on whether the lease should go forward.

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