‘A religious magnet’: Kansas City neighbors blame church for squatters, prostitution, drug problems

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — People living in one Kansas City neighborhood are fed-up with what they call an increasingly dangerous situation from squatters, break-ins, prostitution and shootings.

Some in the area are blaming a local church that hands out free food.

“That’s a religious magnet over there. It draws everybody that comes for the food program over there,” said Sonny Gibson, who lives on East 36th Street and Wabash Avenue. “I need help. I don’t want to be a victim.”

Gibson, who has lived in the area for 40 years said Mount Washington Missionary Baptist Church’s outreach program is attracting the wrong crowd and when the church closes its doors, the people stay.

“Before they had the feeding program, they didn’t have anything over here. 24/7 people are here now,” Gipson said.

The pastor tells FOX4 the church hands out 1,500-2,000 plates a month.

The food distribution became the scene of a shooting Monday morning where one person was seriously injured.

“I feel sorry for the victim, young man, he always helped around the church, he would clean up, he would try to talk to those individuals who were dealing and drugs,” said Pastor Willie Thornton. “The suspect didn’t like the way the victim looked at him and he entered our building, shot him and left.”

Thornton said the church has a responsibility to help the people in need, he has no plans to end the program.

“We have made a difference, but what comes along with making a difference we have people to hang around the church because really, the church is the refuge,” Thornton said. “We were called here to do ministry. What we can’t do is just church. We have to try to impact this community. It starts with the church. Then it also starts with the legal system and the social services to come in and law enforcement. We have to come together as a team.”

Thornton said they plan to hire security. The meal programs will be suspended until new safety measures are in place.

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