Church wants family evicted

First, the Dream Center church fired Marilyn Hopgood.

Now it wants her moved out of her home.

The Dream Center, an inner-city church and social service program run by television evangelist Joyce Meyer, is buying the house where Hopgood lives with her three children and twin grandchildren. As part of the deal with Hopgood’s landlord to buy the house, the church wants Hopgood and her family out of the home.

Mark Sutherland, spokesman for Meyer and the Dream Center, said the ministry is buying the four-bedroom, two-story frame house for $50,000 for a homeless family.

Hopgood, who is so far refusing to move, is fighting the ministry where she worked for more than a decade before being fired last year. “They are going to make us homeless so that they can put another homeless family in here,” she said.

Sutherland said the center is buying homes to provide for the homeless. “We want to take them from homelessness to home ownership,” he said.

Hopgood’s home is in the 7800 block of Margaretta Avenue, four blocks from the Dream Center at Margaretta and Clarence avenues just west of Fairground Park.

Sutherland said that Hopgood was six months behind on her rent. But, the home’s current owner and landlord, Steve Stillwell, said Hopgood was up-to-date on her rent.

So far, Hopgood and her family are not budging. They were still living in the house Thursday, even though the deadline to vacate was 5 p.m. last Friday. Stillwell is now taking Hopgood to court to remove her from the home.

Hopgood, 51, began working in 1992 for a Meyer outreach program called Hand of Hope, which ministered to the elderly in nursing homes.

When Meyer opened the Dream Center in 2000, Hopgood was transferred there to work for Pastor Terry Gwaltney. She ministered in nursing homes, worked with Kids Jam, a children’s program, and picked up older adults on a bus to church on Sundays.

In July 2002, Hopgood lived in a rented home on Newstead Avenue. She got a call at work telling her that her furniture and belongings had been put on the curb. By the time she reached the house, she learned she had been paying rent to a landlord who did not own the home.

Stillwell, a co-worker at the Dream Center, told Hopgood he and his wife would buy a four-bedroom home near the center and rent it to Hopgood until she could buy the home.

“He said that the Lord had told him to do this,” Hopgood said.

Stillwell confirmed Hopgood’s account. He said he gave Hopgood a year to buy the house.

“She had been a victim of circumstances,” Stillwell said. “The one thing she had going for her was her job.”

Hopgood moved into the home on Nov. 13, 2002, with three of her children. Her daughter, Tiarra, 17, became pregnant with twins.

When Hopgood arrived at work on April 18, 2003, she was called into Gwaltney’s office. She said she was fired from her $9.75 an hour job because she had been talking about one of her co-workers.

Hopgood said she was devastated. She knew she would have problems financing the house without a job.

For now, her family is living on Social Security from the children’s late father. Hopgood spends her days baby-sitting her twin grandchildren, a boy, Cameron, and a girl, Diamond, while her daughter attends school. Diamond has a heart condition caused by Kawasaki disease.

Stillwell had urged Hopgood to find a way to buy the house for months. He quit his job at the Dream Center in February, he said, and urged Hopgood to get a loan for the home. On May 18, Stillwell had Hopgood sign an agreement to buy the home by no later than June 18.

Last Thursday, Hopgood’s bank called Stillwell to notify him that it would finance her purchase. But the same day, Stillwell signed a contract to sell the home to the Dream Center. The terms of the deal, which has yet to close, require Hopgood and her family to move out, Stillwell said.

Hopgood said she was dumbfounded last week when Stillwell told her he’d sold the house to the Dream Center and she had until 5 p.m. the next day to vacate the premises. Stillwell offered to drive her to a homeless shelter, she said.

Hopgood remains adamant that she won’t leave until she has another home.

“If it was just me … I would leave, but I’m not putting these babies on the street,” Hopgood said. “I mean, why can’t they give me some time? Isn’t that the Christian thing to do?”

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, USA
July 8, 2004
Carolyn Tuft

Religion News Blog posted this on Friday July 9, 2004.
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