Rev. Willie Parish works the streets hoping to help the homeless to a hot meal. He finds plenty of takers in the park outside the King County Courthouse.
For three years Parish's volunteers from Bread of Life Mission have fed the homeless here. They call them "drive by foodings." A few dozen people have grown to 250.
“People are hungry. They can't always get to the feeding locations, so we bring it to them,” said Parish.
Recently, however, city workers told Bread of Life volunteers they had to have a permit to hand out free food. When they went to apply for one, the city said permits were not being issued.
“It doesn't make sense,” said mission development coordinator Celeste Javier.
It doesn't make sense because Bread of Life already feeds hundreds of people every day here at its Pioneer Square shelter. So why the need for a permit to feed people outside?
The city wants to have more control over its homeless population. It prefers to limit outdoor feeds limited to sanctioned locations like the one run by Operation Sack Lunch under the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Officials say it cuts back on garbage, public urination and food sanitation problems.
Privately, some business owners say they prefer to keep the homeless in a handful of locations instead impromptu feed sites across the city. David Takami of Seattle’s Human Services Department says the main goal is to get the homeless to eat at outfits that can steer them to services that can help them get off the streets.
“They can get a range of services, or at least information they wouldn’t be able to get if they just get the meal itself,” said Takami.
Takami says this is not a new policy. It's part of an ongoing effort to better coordinate services for the homeless. He insists this does not mean it's illegal for to hand a burrito to a homeless person, but the city does ask groups who want to feed the homeless to coordinate with the city first.
Unsure of the legality of their outdoor program, Bread of Life is begrudgingly canceling its outdoor feeds, acknowledging it's not what Jesus would do.
Says Rev. Parish: “All we're doing is acts of kindness. Here's a sandwich, here is a baked potato in the name of the Lord.”