Joel Osteen's Houston megachurch opens doors as Harvey shelter

Aug. 29, 2017: The church had been criticized for its response to the storm. Pastor Joel Osteen responds in an interview with KHOU.

HOUSTON -- The Houston megachurch led by televangelist Joel Osteen says it's opened its doors to people seeking shelter as Harvey swamps the city.

Osteen had faced criticism for not using the massive Lakewood Church as a storm shelter. In a statement to ABC News Monday Osteen said the church "never" closed its doors and was serving as a relief supply distribution center. He said it would "house people once shelters reach capacity."

The church announced on Twitter it was receiving people who need shelter late Tuesday morning.

The 16,000-seat former arena was the longtime home of the NBA's Houston Rockets.

Osteen's comment stands in contrast to a church Facebook post and a since-deleted Instagram remark by Lakewood associate pastor John Gray, who said flooded highways had made the church inaccessible.

He spoke about the criticism with KHOU.

"Our number one priority is safety. This building flooded back in 2001. Right before we took it there was six to eight feet of water in the main auditorium. We put up new flood gates, and it was one foot from coming over. It was very close to being another disaster here."

He also said it was a challenge to have enough volunteers there to help.

"Our volunteers, our staff have problems and challenges, too, and it's hard for them to get out."

Ultimately, he said the church has always had the goal of helping people despite a "false narrative" from some people.

"We gotta take all the factors. It's easy to just see this empty building. The mayor is saying don't get on the streets, so I can't tell all these people to come. When the George R. Brown [convention center] filled up and the mayor said we need more shelter, we said, man, let's go. We can do this."

© 2017 Associated Press


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