Families affected by Hurricane Harvey will finally be able to shelter in Houston's Lakewood Church, after a public backlash surrounding Senior Pastor Joel Osteen.
Osteen is known worldwide as a televangelist and a bestselling author, but he became the target of criticism this weekend as families in southeast Texas fled Hurricane Harvey. Critics say Osteen closed the doors of his Lakewood Church building when shelter was needed the most.
Emergency officials say more than 300,000 people have been affected by the massive floods following Harvey's landfall, with millions more in surrounding communities put on "flood watch." Already, at least 7 people are confirmed to have died because of the hurricane, which is expected to return again with added strength on Wednesday.
But while locals were evacuated and sheltered in nearby convention centers, churches and stadiums, the doors to Houston's Lakewood Church remained closed and Sunday services were cancelled. While the church shared a link to a charity organization on the Facebook page, they recommended their congregation call local rescue hotlines or the National Guard.
The Lakewood Church is housed in the former home of the Houston Rockets basketball team and seats 16,800 people. As complaints came in, the church's spokesman (and Osteen's father-in-law) Donald Iloff explained that the building was inaccessible because of flooding.
But after intense public backlash the church has finally responded.
In a statement, Osteen says that church "never closed our doors," and announced that beginning Tuesday the church will become a shelter and donation center for families affected by Harvey.
"We are prepared to shelter people once the cities and county shelters reach capacity," the statement continues, "Lakewood will be a value to the community in the aftermath of this storm in helping our fellow citizens rebuild their lives."
Church officials and congregation members have also shared photos of flooding in the church building. While the Lakewood Church blamed these conditions for keeping the church closed to the public, video taken at the building seems to show the upper floors are in good shape.
Several hundred evacuees will be allowed to shelter on the 2nd floor of the church building, and the church will accept donations of diapers, baby formula and food.
The Lakewood Church, which was founded by Osteen's father in the 1950s, is one of America's largest congregations, hosting 52,000 people every week.
To support the victims of Hurricane Harvey you can call 1-800-REDCROSS or text the word HARVEY to 90999 to make a $10 donation.
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[H/T: NY Post]