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Pending Deal Could Move Feeding Programs Indoors

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

July 27 -- Nearly 15 years after homeless advocates began handing out free meals in local parks, City officials are close to convincing two of the largest groups to move their feeding programs indoors, The Lookout has learned.

Helping Other People Eat (HOPE), which hands out food twice a week in Palisades Park, and Hand to Hand, which operates each Saturday on the sweeping lawns of City Hall are working out the “nuts and bolts” of a permanent agreement with the City, Santa Monica officials said.

“Two of the largest groups have tentatively agreed to move indoors pending working out the details on operational issues,” said Mona Miyasato, the City’s acting human services manager.

City officials plan to meet soon with former city attorney Bob Myers – who is acting on the groups’ behalf – to discuss the possible relocation of the program to a building near the The Ocean Park Community Center (OPCC). The city’s largest homeless agency, OPCC operates out the municipal bus yards on Colorado Avenue and 7th Street.

It is still unclear whether the groups will sign a formal contract with the City, or enter into a verbal agreement, Miyasato said. It is also unclear how many homeless people will be served at the indoor site.

What City officials do know is that the move signals an historic step, according to Miyasato.

“For 15 years, organized groups have been feeding the homeless against the City’s long standing policy to link all meal programs to services,” she said.

Despite an 2002 ordinance restricting outdoor feeding programs, as well as costly litigation with groups such as Food Not Bombs, feeding groups have remained defiant in holding their ground at the parks, which they say are humane and sanitary locations. (see special report)

In an effort to move the programs indoors, Mayor Bob Holbrook last year suggested passing on the costs of providing park rangers to monitor the feeding programs, a cost estimated at $42,000 a year.

The feeding ordinance, as well as Holbrook’s proposal helped land Santa Monica on the list of the 20 “meanest cities” in the country when it comes to regulating homelessness, despite millions spent each year on services.

After years of bad blood, a change in the key players may have made the difference, Miyasato said.

Last year, the City Council hired a new city manager, Lamont Ewell, and, perhaps more importantly, created a post for a “homeless czar” filled by former County Supervisor Ed Edelman.

“Ed Edelman has been facilitating the discussions between both sides for several months,” Miyasato said.

The groups, she said, have been receptive to the change.

“We are very hopeful that the agreement will go through and the groups need to be recognized for stepping up,” Miyasato said.

This would be the second major accomplishment for Edelman. Earlier this month, City officials announced the formation of Community Courts in Santa Monica, a plan championed by Edelman that establishes a separate court attached to services for the mentally ill and homeless who commit petty offenses.

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