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Required Bible Study Threatens Shelters’ Funding

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) – Required Bible studies at two residential treatment centers in Colorado Springs could put at least one of the centers out of business because they’re going to lose federal grant money.

Gospel Shelters for Women, which operates Liza’s Place and Hope Home, won’t give up the Bible studies despite losing $25,000 a year in federal funding, according to The (Colorado Springs) Gazette.

“I think the Christian aspect is what allows the ladies to have something to lean on when they get in a jam,” said Marilyn Vyzourek, founder and executive director of Gospel Shelters for Women. “It helps them in counseling, and I’ve seen ladies change their lives, and I’m not going to take the Bible studies away.”

The newspaper reports that the treatment centers received federal funding because administrators with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development believed the Bible studies were optional, not required. Federal law bars the use of tax dollars on religious proselytizing.

Bob Holmes, executive director of Homeward Pikes Peak, helps ensure proper use of the $1.88 million in HUD money that is allocated each year to agencies serving the homeless in El Paso County. He told the newspaper that the three lead agencies that oversee the HUD allocations believed the Bible studies were optional.

“We did not know it was mandated,” he said. “We’d been told originally by her that it was being run in a secular fashion, and we only recently were informed by a client that was not the case. We checked into it, and it was validated.”

He also told the paper, “We talked with Marilyn, and I think she made a well-informed decision that she needed to stand up for what she believed in, and we respect that. But to continue to fund her knowing what we know would have jeopardized our entire HUD funding.”

Vyzourek, an ordained minister, started Liza’s Place in 2002. Last year, she started Hope Home for a population with different treatment needs: women with both mental health and substance abuse problems.

Liza’s Place has been operating on a $200,000 budget, with the HUD grant accounting for about 12.5 percent of that. The nonprofit also gets money from its Gospel Center for Women thrift store on East Platte Avenue, but it lost another $25,000 grant, and private donations have dropped in the bad economy.

“We’ve started to lay people off,” Vyzourek said. “We’re cutting back, and consolidating Hope Home and Liza’s Place. We do a great service for the community, and I am in danger of closing my doors at this point.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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