UPDATE: 11:00 a.m. ― On Tuesday morning, the church tweeted that they had started “receiving people who need shelter.”
After receiving heavy criticism for keeping its doors closed while thousands remained without shelter, Pastor Joel Osteen’s Houston megachurch will open its doors on Tuesday to residents who have been displaced by the flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey.
“We have never closed our doors. We will continue to be a distribution center for those in need,” reads a statement by church spokesman and Osteen’s father-in-law Donald Iloff from Monday, according to CNN.
On Monday, multiple outlets reported that the church, which seats 16,800 people, remained closed due to flooding conditions that made it “inaccessible,” according to Lakewood Facebook post.
By Tuesday, the church was prepared to open its doors.
“We are prepared to shelter people once the cities and county shelters reach capacity. Lakewood will be a value to the community in the aftermath of this storm in helping our fellow citizens rebuild their lives,” Iloff told CNN.
The statement indicated the church won’t house anyone until “cities and county shelters reach capacity,” which resulted in even more backlash.
Harvey has wreaked havoc on Texas since making landfall on Friday night, leaving many without power and thousands displaced to temporary shelters. Osteen’s Lakewood Church, a 16,800-seat indoor arena, announced on Facebook on Sunday that it wasn’t able to house anyone in need because it was “inaccessible due to severe flooding.” Many criticized the decision and questioned if the church remained inaccessible
“Why isn’t Joel Osteen mega church in Houston Texas is not open to the public in need of shelter, food and protection?” one person asked on Twitter.
“You know who hasn’t opened his enormous, tax-exempt mega-church as a shelter? Joel Osteen. About all those tax-free millions, Joel...” said another.
According to freelance reporter Ruth Graham, one Lakewood representative said the church wasn’t flooded, but “would be difficult for most people to access due to nearby flooding.”
Social media pressure to open the church mounted on Monday. Announcing it would open its doors on Tuesday, the church provided photos of the standing water in their hallways and the parking lot to CNN, with Ilof adding that “the area around the church flooded on Monday” and “at least three people came to the church for help before they were taken to the George Brown Convention Center.”
A Lakewood representative told CNN that “the water has already receded” from inside the church.