The Bread of Life Mission, which has served the homeless community in Pioneer Square for more than 70 years, said the city has directed them to stop feeding the hungry in downtown parks.
On the third Saturday of every month for the past three years, volunteers for the mission have handed out meals at places such as City Hall Park. 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 say the restriction is 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 need 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.
Nevertheless, Bread of Life is upset about the restriction and hopes to continue serving meals to homeless individuals who do not come into their shelter.
“We love to do it, we want to continue doing it,” Parish said.