HOUSTON, Texas — The megachurch led by Joel Osteen is receiving people who need shelter and also helping evacuees with supplies such as baby food, formula and other shelter needs, the church announced via Twitter Tuesday morning.
Lakewood Church was under fire after apparently not opening up the church to flood victims. The church disputed online criticism, stating “we are prepared to shelter people once the cities and county shelters reach capacity.”
“Victoria and I care deeply about our fellow Houstonians. Lakewood’s doors are open and we are receiving anyone who needs shelter,” Osteen tweeted Tuesday, referencing his wife who is also Lakewood’s co-pastor.
Lakewood Church, which was founded by Osteen’s father in the 1950s, posted on social media Monday that the venue was “inaccessible due to severe flooding” following Hurricane Harvey, which has been downgraded to a tropical storm.
The message included the National Guard rescue hotline, along with a list of shelters that displaced Texans could go to.
Many on social media criticized the church for not taking people in, but the church disputed the backlash. “We have never closed our doors. We will continue to be a distribution center for those in need,” church spokesman and Osteen’s father-in-law Donald Iloff said.
“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.”
Photos provided by the church showed standing water in hallways and the parking lot. The church already had a flood wall in place following a previous storm.
The church, which occupies the former home of the NBA’s Houston Rockets, will also be used as a donation center and was scheduled to open around noon, Iloff said.
At least several hundred people can be housed on the 2nd floor of the church, he said.
The area around the church flooded on Monday, Iloff said, and at least three people came to the church for help before they were taken to the George Brown Convention Center.
Houston officials continue to field calls from flood-stranded Texans. Thousands have been rescued since Harvey made landfall on Friday, many are still waiting to picked up.
Four people have died as a result of the catastrophic storm.