Joel Osteen responds to criticism of Harvey response: ‘We were here for people’
ABC News(HOUSTON) — Pastor Joel Osteen said on Wednesday that his Lakewood Church has been taking people in “from the very beginning” of Harvey as he pushed back against criticism that the church did not initially welcome evacuees.
“We were here for people. We were a shelter,” Osteen said on Good Morning America.
“We were taking people as soon as the floodwaters receded,” he added.
Osteen also called it “totally not true” that the church, which can hold more than 16,000 people, did not open early enough for the residents of Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city that has been devastated by Harvey.
“I think somebody created that narrative that somehow we were high and dry, and none of that is true,” he said. “This building — it was a safety issue, and we took people in from the very beginning.”
On Sunday, Lakewood Church posted on Facebook that it was “inaccessible due to severe flooding” and directed displaced residents to shelters in the city. The church has previously been active in relief efforts, including sheltering displaced people during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Harvey, which first came ashore on Friday in Texas as a Category 4 hurricane, dumped as much as 51 inches of rain on some parts of the state. The storm is responsible for at least 11 deaths — all in Texas — over the past four days.
The church’s Facebook post drew criticism on social media, where photos appeared to suggest that the massive building, once home to the NBA’s Houston Rockets, had not been damaged by the torrential rains.
In response, Osteen insisted in a statement Monday evening that he and his church are “prepared to house people once shelters reach capacity.”
“We have never closed our doors. We will continue to be a distribution center for those in need,” the statement read, adding, “Lakewood will be a value to the community in the aftermath of this storm in helping our fellow citizens rebuild their lives.”
Osteen tweeted Tuesday that Lakewood was “receiving anyone who needs shelter.”
Victoria and I care deeply about our fellow Houstonians. Lakewood’s doors are open and we are receiving anyone who needs shelter.
— Joel Osteen (@JoelOsteen) August 29, 2017
A Lakewood Church spokesperson told ABC News Tuesday that its doors have always been open, and the church, which does not have showers or a kitchen, is waiting for city officials to designate it as a shelter so it can obtain cots and other materials to help people.
At first, it was difficult for church staff to get to the facility from their homes, the spokesperson told ABC on Tuesday, adding that the facility did not initially shelter people because it would be too dangerous to have people on a lower level, which could flood.
Now that the floodwaters have receded, the church decided to bring in evacuees, the spokesperson added.
The church tweeted photos of rescue efforts on Tuesday and thanked the “hundreds upon hundreds of volunteers” who came to help.
Thank you Houston. Your response has been overwhelming. We cannot thank enough the hundreds upon hundreds of volunteers who came out today! pic.twitter.com/hI1jl5Sry8
— Lakewood Church (@lakewoodch) August 29, 2017
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