After a report by KIRO Radio, Seattle officials say they will allow a downtown mission to continue to feed the homeless at City Hall Park.
Last week, the Bread of Life Mission, which has served the homeless community in Pioneer Square for more than 70 years, said the city directed them to stop feeding the hungry in downtown parks.
Volunteers for the mission had handed out meals at the park on the third Saturday of every month for the past three years. The offering was in addition to the three meals a day they serve inside their building at 97 South Main Street.
“It was a service we were offering free of charge to be a blessing to the homeless,” said Executive Director Willie Parish, Jr. “All we were doing was just a continuation of what we do on a daily basis.”
In December, however, Parish said Seattle police told them they were no longer allowed to serve food at the park.
City officials told KIRO Radio the restriction was nothing new, and that Bread of Life simply operated in the park for three years without being caught or reported.
David Takami with the Seattle Human Services Department said the city does not allow groups of people to feed the homeless outdoors without approval.
“This has happened in the past where there are a lot of meals served in a short period of time on the same day,” he said. “It’s a little chaotic and it can also lead to wasted food.”
Takami said those wishing to feed the homeless have to coordinate with the Operation: Sack Lunch program, which serves up to 300 people a day at the city’s outdoor meal site, located under the I-5 bridge at 6th Avenue and Columbia Street.
By requiring that all food be served at the site, Takami said the city can control the nutritional value of what the homeless eat and can prevent litter from being left behind at parks after meals.
He said the controlled environment is also safer for volunteers.
“For example, there was one group of middle school students who, out of the goodness of their hearts, wanted to serve meals to homeless people and we were concerned […] because of possible safety issues,” Takami said.
But after meeting with the Bread of Life Mission over the weekend, the city has decided to allow them to continue their services on the third Saturday of each month until “a long-term strategy to coordinate feeding programs” can be agreed upon.
“The Seattle Human Services Department will explore options with agencies that serve homeless people to see if there’s an interest in partnering with community agencies to have their residents participate in meal services at their facilities,” said a statement from the Seattle Human Services Department. “As a long-term strategy, the agencies agreed to develop a coordinated system for faith-based organizations and other community groups to serve meals to homeless people – both in Seattle and in surrounding communities.”
A spokesperson for the mayor’s office said the exception only applies to the Bread of Life Mission, and others who wish to feed the homeless outdoors must contact the city.
In the email, the department noted that in 2012 they invested more than $3 million in an emergency food network for the city’s homeless.