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SHELTER CHIEF ADMITS 50% FAIL PROGRAM

The operator of the Prayer and Praise shelter for 30 homeless and addicted men admitted Thursday that 50 percent of his clients "fail the program" and probably end up on the streets.

The Rev. Richard Armenia said the mission teaches the men -- including seven currently from outside the county -- to live in the way of Jesus Christ.

Mr. Armenia appeared before the County Legislature's Social Services Committee to answer legislators' questions on whether welfare money is being used by the organization to purchase property and support crusades.

"We don't get welfare," Mr. Armenia said. "We're a church. Our church supports our work. I owe nobody nothing."

According to statements he has made in the past, Prayer and Praise was formed in 1984 and he became involved in 1986. After leaving the Catholic Church, Mr. Armenia started his own church seven years ago.

Prayer and Praise is seeking a stay against eviction by the city from the group's site on Linwood Avenue near Bryant Street. A decision currently is pending from State Supreme Court Justice Barbara Howe.

Legislator George Holt, D-Buffalo, who heads the Social Services Committee, asked how Prayer and Praise recently was able to buy the former Our Lady of Lourdes Church, on Main Street near High Street, for $100,000. Mr. Armenia plans to open a home there for drug-addicted women and former prostitutes and their children.

"We put $15,000 down," said Mr. Armenia. He added that the mortgage came from Fleet Bank.

Minority Leader Frederick Marshall, R-East Aurora, asked if Prayer and Praise imports crack addicts from outside the county.

Mr. Armenia replied that if a church in another state wants to send clients, he accepts them. He added that the eight or nine Prayer and Praise staff members who live with the men are not drug and alcohol rehabilitators.

"The program is religious," he said. "I don't treat them for nothing but Jesus Christ." Fifty percent "leave before the cure," he added. "They might stay here. You might have a few of them."

After experiencing problems in Lancaster and South Buffalo, Prayer and Praise bought the building on Linwood from U.S. Bankruptcy Court. The shelter is currently operating without a city zoning permit, despite opposition from neighborhood block clubs.

"The City of Buffalo refused to issue a certificate of occupancy, which we believe is not necessary for a church," said Mr. Armenia.

"Because of the certificate of occupancy issue, we have lost a major part of our support base."

The church now owns six buildings, Mr. Armenia said. He recently said his congregation has 40 to 60 members.

Legislator Gregory Olma, D-Buffalo, a former Common Council aide, said a place of public assembly requires a use permit.

Mr. Armenia, noting that he is totally confused by the Social Services Department, said his "fight" is with The Buffalo News.

He particularly challenged News reports, first printed on March 26, 1995, that his group was then benefiting from nearly $140,000 a year in welfare and food stamps for the men who lived there.

In 1994, Prayer and Praise received $50,000, and in 1995 it received $34,408 for men on welfare, he said. After September and October of last year, the group had no residents on welfare, he said.

"If you added up everything, it doesn't come to $138,000," Mr. Armenia said. "If you want to look at our books, come down."

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