Last week, CityBeat reported that the Bread of Life food-service program, which has served dinner to an estimated 200 needy folks daily for the past 19 years, had come to an end June 30 despite the efforts of program founder Norma Rossi, a city-organized task force and Capt. Thom Poochigian, head of the downtown Salvation Army.
After the task force's one-year search for a new site for the program failed-condo construction kicked it out of the 13th-and-Broadway lot it had occupied since 1984, when the city unofficially gave the lot to Rossi-Poochigian stepped in and offered to allow Rossi and her crew of volunteers to use the Salvation Army's mid-sized dining hall, already well-used by the organization's own outreach and food service programs.
Poochigian's intentions, however, seemed momentarily quashed last Tuesday when it appeared that the additional crowd of people coming over to the Seventh Avenue and F Street building might push the limits of what was allowable under the Salvation Army's city-issued permit. For nonprofit social-service organizations, especially those offering aid to the homeless in neighborhoods and high-density areas, getting a permit is tricky enough; violating a permit might result in its repeal.
But by the end of last week, Poochigian, working with Sharon Johnson of the city's Homeless Services division, determined that many of the people who had frequented the property at 13th and Broadway were also Salvation Army regulars-"virtually the same group of people," Johnson said. She added that she'll monitor the area to make sure there's no additional loitering or any other sort of negative impact.
Bread of Life was the city's last allowed outdoor food line. Other meal providers are required to serve food indoors for health and safety reasons, though community groups often complain about lines of people waiting for a free meal. In order to allay the burden on any one part of the downtown area, service providers have worked out a schedule, said Johnson. The Rescue Mission serves an early breakfast, St. Vincent de Paul provides lunch and God's Extended Hand and the Salvation Army serve dinner.
Some critics of these programs have argued that free meals simply perpetuate homelessness, providing more than enough for an individual to survive. Johnson, however, thinks it's more complex than that.
"Scarcity creates hoarding," she said, "no matter what form it takes. I think the fact that homeless people are not in a position to eat when they choose or even when they are hungry, for that matter, sets in motion certain behaviors. Therefore, food becomes an issue.
"The focus seems always to be on what the homeless are receiving," she added, "rather than on the basics that are missing in their lives."