Volunteers were just starting out their week of service at Community United Methodist Church in Desert Hot Springs, Calif., on Monday morning (Oct. 22) when city officials asked them to leave.
The roaming volunteer group, RVers in Mission, travels throughout California in recreational vehicles to repair churches and campgrounds, the Desert Sun, Palm Springs, reported.
The group arrived at the Methodist church on Pierson Boulevard with plans to paint classrooms, bathrooms and meeting rooms through Friday.
But code enforcement showed up and asked the 15 volunteers to move their RVs from the vacant sand lot next to the church within three hours.
According to city ordinance, RVs cannot be stationed on an unpaved surface, said City Manager Rick Daniels. It kicks up environmentally unhealthy amounts of dust.
They also weren’t allowed to park in a nearby concrete lot, because overnight camping is not permitted there.
“The city has ordinances that prohibit camping anywhere other than designated. Every other city in the Coachella Valley is like this,” Daniels said.
“We have no problems with the traveling ministry,” he added. “We’ve got no problems with the work that’s being done … We just need them on hard surface.”
Members of the group were taken aback, some outraged.
“We don’t understand,” said Jan Clements, 78, of Yucca Valley. “We’re not going to stay all winter. We’re just here to volunteer our time.”
Since its establishment in 1986, RVers in Mission has worked on 224 projects throughout California but has encountered trouble only in two cities, Desert Hot Springs being one of them, some of the volunteers said.
Though the group will continue its work at the church for the remainder of the week, they will keep their eight RVs stationed at Palm Drive RV & Mobile Home Park for $25 each, meaning $200 for all of them per night.
Park manager Dave Glover said he’s letting them stay at a discounted price.
For Gene Hill, 72, of San Jose, the matter is a personal one.
“It really set me off because my grandfather helped get the church constructed in the late 1950s,” he said. “His funeral was here.”