A few days ago, there was a news story on San Luis Obispo’s local television station, KSBY, that reported that the People’s Kitchen in Grover Beach which feeds that area’s homeless, will be shutting its doors on January 11th, of 2008.
People’s Kitchen has been providing hot meals in that area for about 15 years. The past two years it has been operating from the Assembly of God church located at 946 Rockaway Avenue.
The decision to stop feeding the homeless wasn’t made by either the People’s Kitchen or the Assembly of God Church. The decision was made by the city. The reason: according to the city of Grover Beach what the People’s Kitchen and the church are doing is operating something that is "similar to a restaurant" and therefore, in the "eyes of the city," a commercial venture – which would be "better suited to a commercial zone." Therefore, since this house of worship is in a residential zone, they can’t feed the homeless and/or anyone else.
I have several problems with that extremely skewed way of thinking…
First of all, I’ve never regarded a Church, Synagogue or Mosque to be a "commercial" venture. I’ve always thought that they were places where people went to worship the God of their faith and to – hopefully – come out being better people for attending. Now, it seems that apparently I was mistaken. Churches who feed the homeless are running something that is "similar to a restaurant" – although none of those who are being fed are paying for their meal. Silly me.
Secondly, if I remember the Sunday School teachings from my youth, feeding the hungry and needy is part of most people’s religious beliefs and tenets. To me that it makes me wonder that if any government – at least here in the U.S. – can tell a Church that they cannot feed the hungry on Church property, wouldn’t that be akin to interfering with a persons right to freedom of religion and their right to peacefully assemble (both which are 1st Amendment rights)? Again, apparently not. How could I be so foolish to believe that doing something good for those who are less fortunate would be acceptable in the eyes of the government.
Third, since the People’s Kitchen is for many of SLO’s south county area homeless the only place that they will be able to receive a meal, I foresee potential for some "real" crimes to be committed – especially something like people stealing so that they don’t starve to death. Better put out an all points bulletin out on that one.
Now, I have to ask myself this: the city has known for at least two years that the Church has been feeding the homeless. How is it that all of a sudden the Church is breaking the law? Or can it be that it was a-okay with the city so long as no one complained because that meant that the City itself didn’t have to address the issue of how to feed the area’s homeless?
And that’s really what all of this is about: some of the churches neighbors have been complaining.
So what the city – through its City Manager, Bob Perrault – is now saying is this:
"The facility does not have a permit to be a meal distribution center"
and, of course the city will not issue one to either the People’s Kitchen or the Church because its located in a "residential zone."
When I mentioned this situation to a dear friend of mine, he said:
"I didn’t realize that kindness needed a permit."
Apparently in Grover Beach, California is does.
Here’s the thing: there have been complaints, but not from businesses that are nearby as you would suppose. For example…
Attorney Geraldine Champion who has an office in the vicinity supports the program. She was quoted as saying:
"They do a great job of crowd management. People come and get their lunch and leave."
Supposedly, residents who live in close proximity to the church have been the ones to complain of "loitering" and making allegations of "drug dealing." But, if such complaints were actually filed, then they are public records. Yet, the city is reluctant to say who filed the complaints.
Yet, one of the Grover Beach Police Department’s own – Sgt. Angelo Limon – said that:
"…the 900 block of Rockaway hasn’t had any serious incidents that he can recall."
and that they’ve had some calls to the area but that:
"…we haven’t had any repetitive calls about any particular matter."
I’m just wondering if it’s a case similar to when a person buys a house near the airport and then complains that the airplanes are making too much noise and could the city please do something about it?
I used to think that the Grover Beach area would be a nice place to live. Now I’m having second thoughts. I’m not sure that I would want to live in a town where I’d have to get a permission slip from the city just so that I can do a good deed every now and again.
Here are some links about this situation: