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Free Meals Program for the Homeless Moves from The Promenade Indoors


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By Jorge Casuso

September 14, 2018 -- A program that for a decade has been handing out free vegan meals to the homeless on Santa Monica's popular Third Street Promenade will move indoors.

On Tuesday, the City Council approved allocating $20,000 to the Salvation Army to accommodate the program run by the UCLA chapter of Food Not Bombs on the northern end of the shopping strip.

The free weekly meals, which attract homeless to the area every Thursday night, have been "problematic" said Council member Gleam Davis, who sponsored the item with Mayor Ted Winterer.

Moving the program to the Salvation Army on Fourth Street is a "dignified and humane" solution, she said.

The money will be used by the non-profit to make infrastructure improvements that will allow it "to host meals for homeless persons" in an indoor environment, according too the motion.

A staff member from The Salvation Army and a representative from West Coast Care will be available during the meals to meet with the homeless who show up.

The two workers will "learn their stories, discuss their short and long-term goals, and work towards sustainable housing solutions," according to the motion.

Ambassadors for Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. (DTSM), which helped broker the move, will provide weekly custodial support "to ease the burden on the Salvation Army staff," the motion said.

Food not Bombs has recently come under increasing pressure to move off the Promenade.

Realtors have complained they are driving off potential clients interested in the former Barnes and Noble space on Wilshire and Residocracy recently posted pictures on its Facebook page of the group sharing meals.

Residocracy, said Keith McHenry of Foods Not Bombs, asked "people to complain to the church where they were preparing the meals.

"As a result," he wrote Monday in the San Diego Free Press, "the church told Food Not Bombs we could no longer use their kitchen."

Moving the meals program to the Salvation Army "will not only reduce the number of people being helped but hide the efforts of our group to build support for real solutions to hunger and poverty," McHenry wrote.

The UCLA chapter of Food Not Bombs collects leftover food from outdoor markets, grocery stores and restaurants and prepares it in the church basement before taking to to the Promenade.

In an effort to curb outdoor meal programs, Santa Monica approved a law in 2002 that required individuals and groups handing out meals to more than 150 people to obtain permits.

Two years later, only four of the 26 public meal sites identified in 2002 remained, and they had opted to split their distributions into smaller groups ("Two Years After Crackdown, Feeding Program Problems Persist," January 17, 2005).

Foods Not Bombs sued the City and in June 2006, the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the "appellants' persistent urging and Santa Monica's willingness to change its regulations have together produced a transformation in the applicable permitting scheme."

Tuesday's Council vote comes four and a half months after Westside Vineyard Church stopped providing Sunday lunches to the homeless at Santa Monica's Reed Park ("Westside Church to Stop Sunday Lunches for Homeless at Reed Park," May 2, 2018).

The free meals 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).


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