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Neighbors of Santa Monica Park Greet End of Free Lunches for Homeless
By Niki Cervantes
May 4, 2018 -- Neighbors of Santa Monica’s Reed Park are expressing relief after a church announced it would no longer serve Sunday lunches to homeless people amid a reported rise in crime and behavior that has scared families away.
The problem, reported in The Lookout last month, had become a subject on social media, as neighbors asked for help to “take back” the park and its environs ("Santa Monica’s Reed Park Target of Complaints about Drugs and Other Illegal Activities," April 4, 2018).
“I know this must have been a hard call for you and I appreciate and respect the fact that you’ve made it,” said one post at residocracy.org, a Santa Monica-based online site for discussion of civic issues.
The decision was based on complaints -- in calls to police and posted online -- about the growing number of homeless people at the park, erratic behavior and alleged crimes, including drug dealings that visitors said they had witnessed.
One post at residocracy included a telephone number for the church.
On Wednesday , Brad Bailey, lead pastor for the non-denominational church in Mar Vista, announced that on May 20 his congregation would stop serving Sunday lunch to the homeless at Reed Park in Santa Monica ("Westside Church to Stop Sunday Lunches for Homeless at Reed Park," May 2, 2018).
“It seems like social media is having a major effect,” said Armen Melkonians, who founded residocracy.org in 2014 to help fend off major developments proposed in Santa Monica.
Lately, the website's posts have increasingly focused on crime in the beach city, including high-profile home invasions and several murders involving the homeless covered by the press ("Santa Monica Slow-Growth Group Shifts Focus to Crime," March 2, 2018).
The site recently provided an “unfiltered view” of the sentiments of neighbors about church volunteers offering the homeless free lunches where families bring small children to picnic and play.
“I think the pastor heard that what they (the church) thought was the right place for these lunches was not the right place,” Melkonians said.
“The goodwill of this church just needs to be re-positioned elsewhere,” said Phil Brock, a civic activist who is closely involved with City parks and currently sits on the City's Arts Commission.
“Applaud Vineyard Church and hope they carry on their giving ways elsewhere,” he said in another post. “In addition, applaud all those who pressured them to end their feeding program in Reed Park. All of us succeeded."
Santa Monica police had already warned that offering free food at Reed Park might be increasing the number of homeless visitors, although the extent to which that is related to crime is unknown.
The City completed a major renovation of the 5.2-acre park near Lincoln and Wilshire boulevards in February of 2107 ("Santa Monica Funds Reed Park Improvement Project," May 12, 2016).
Formerly known as Lincoln Park, the park bordering Downtown had been the site of homeless encampments, and related problems, in the 1990s.
Neighbors feared the problem was resurfacing with the free meals given to the homeless, whose ranks have been on the upswing in Santa Monica.
Westside Vineyard Church will shift its charitable efforts "to needs which don’t involve the conflict with residential issues," Bailey said.
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