Chicago Church Takes on Motel | WBEZ
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Chicago Church Takes on Motel

A Chicago church congregation wants to eradicate drugs, crime and prostitution in its West Woodlawn neighborhood. New Beginnings Church members are targeting a motel that's directly across the street from the church. They say the seedy, run-down-looking motel is a haven for drug dealers and johns. Every weekend the pastor leads a protest in front of the Super Motel.

On a dark, drizzly Friday night, 30 or so congregants from New Beginnings Church stand in the middle of the street on 66th and King Drive. They've been here every Friday and Saturday night since August.

ambi: sounds of protest

They wear orange T-shirts, some men with flashlights have the girth of nightclub bouncers and children dance to contemporary gospel music blaring from speakers hooked to bright streetlights. The protest has the energy of a block party that's celebrating well past sunset.

The "Shut ‘Em Down Campaign" aims to stop the alleged drug dealing and prostitution at Super Motel directly across the street. Volunteers pass out flyers to cars driving down King Drive.

Lolita Kellogg is a substance abuse and HIV counselor who attends New Beginnings. She hasn't missed a weekend protest.

KELLOGG: I've seen people walk up to this hotel, go to the room directly across here. Knock on the door, step in for a minute and come back out. That's drug sales. Just last weekend a car drove in with a young lady and a guy. Went in the room. In there half hour at the most. Came right back out.

This strip of has long been associated with prostitution. In September, there were five prostitution arrests on 65th and King Drive.

BROOKS: We believe that, as a church, we're supposed to help change the community. I think a lot of times churches do a lot of complaining but they don't get involved in changing.

Corey Brooks is the pastor at New Beginnings. The church used to be a roller-skating rink. Brooks remodeled the space and moved in two and a half years ago.

Brooks says the tipping point on crime for the church came this summer.

BROOKS: There was a young man that was chased out of the hotel on a Sunday morning half naked and he was chased right into our doorways right before church. And these young guys beat him severely and we had to call an ambulance it was really a mess.

Brooks says after that incident, the church agreed that a weekly protest to call attention to the motel was the way to go. He says one prostitute approached him about getting help and the church paid for her drug rehab visit.

BROOKS: If a person chooses to use the hotel, as disgusting as we think that hotel may be, we don't try to stop them or prohibit them or harass them. Their prerogative it's a free country. If they choose to use it, that's there choice. All we try to do is pass out flyers so if they happen to get a flyer when they come by, so be it. We still believe in being as loving as possible.

The Super Motel owner is Veenod Patel. Patel has owned Super Motel since August 1998. He co-owns another hotel in Homewood and he lives in Glenview, Illinois. Patel says he never looks into the personal business of his clientele.

PATEL: That is not my business to identify who is the drug dealer or who is the criminal. When customers check in, they have a legal ID and we have to honor them.

Patel says he doesn't experience any problems from motel customers and the police don't bother him.

The Chicago Police Department declined to comment for this story.

Patel says he feels unfairly singled out by the church. He says he wants to sell the church his motel, if anything to get the pastor off of his back. But an interested Pastor Brooks says the asking price of $1.5 million is too much. Patel says that's the final price.

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