The LookOut news

Food Providers, Social Service Agencies Meet Before Council Takes Up Meal Programs

By Jorge Casuso

Oct. 7 -- Anticipating that the City Council will approve an ordinance Tuesday night that would curb free meal programs in the parks, City and social service agency officials met with food providers on Thursday to discuss the possibility of coordinating their efforts.

Attending the meeting were representatives of five social service agencies, who worry that the food programs -- many of them from out of town -- are undermining the City's extensive social services network, which links emergency services such as food to long-term solutions to homelessness.

The two food providers at the meeting -- the Loyola Marymount University Campus Ministry for Community Service in Westchester and the Vineyard Christian Fellowship in West Los Angeles -- were open to "hooking up with the agencies," City officials said.

"We weren't trying to do something that would change what the staff recommendation was," said Human Services supervisor Julie Rusk. "We wanted to see if we could make any forward movement making linkages. I wouldn't say we came up with any new solutions, but it was a chance to share their perspectives."

The ordinance regulating food distribution would make it a misdemeanor to distribute food without County and City permits. It also would impose a $1,000 fine or six months in jail, or both, for unauthorized food programs on public streets and sidewalks.

City Attorney Marsha Moutrie, who authored the ordinance, has said that the food distribution law would only reinforce existing health code standards, which "to date have not been enforced" by the County.

Some food providers who communicated with City officials said they were under the impression that if they attended the talks "the ordinance won't happen," Rusk said.

"We weren't trying to strike up a deal," she said. "Basically people said their plan was to stay put, but if they can't get a permit, they would consider hooking up with an agency."

If the food providers -- some of whom serve as many as 300 people -- coordinate their efforts with the agencies, there would need to be a "shift in thinking," Rusk said.

The City's Annual Report on Homeless Services, which the council is expected to approve on Tuesday, "calls for smaller, more decentralized services," Rusk said. "Taking a 300-person food group and moving it, we don't really have sites that can accommodate 300 people."

On Tuesday, the council also is expected to consider a separate law that would make sleeping in storefront doorways Downtown between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. a misdemeanor punishable with a $1,000 fine or six months in County jail, or both.

The ordinances -- which drew 141 speakers to the September 24 council meeting -- would amount to the first crackdown on the homeless in a decade and will likely spur a challenge by the National Lawyer's Guild.

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