SEATTLE -- For 23 years, 7 days a week, Operation: Sack Lunch has served breakfast, lunch and dinner to the homeless of Seattle. Chef Paul Nicolosi says OSL is the last line of defense against hunger for more than 6,000 people every year.
"Everyone has a right to be fed," he says. We go to them,” he said.
They go to an Interstate 5 underpass near Freeway Park not far from City Hall. Hundreds line up every day, but Seattle's Human Services Department says OSL has to shut the operation down by February 29. It's a move many homeless advocates believe would prove disastrous on several levels.
"They will dig through dumpsters to find food. There will be more food borne illnesses. Harborview will be swamped. The rats will repopulate the park," said Beverly Graham, Executive Director of OSL.
The city says it wants to move the homeless from outdoor feeds to those that are exclusively indoors. It's an effort to better connect them with social services.
Human Services Department spokesman David Takami says a more controlled, indoor environment would not only get the homeless out of the elements, but would better allow outreach workers to connect with them one-on-one. However, no indoor facility has been identified yet.
Graham says she asked the city for a 6 month grace period to find a suitable location, but city officials declined. She says there isn't enough room to feed the 200 or so people a day who eat at OSL's outdoor site.
The homeless themselves say some simply won't go inside to eat for a variety of reasons. They question the ethics of letting people go hungry.
"A lot of the homeless are set in their ways where they don't want to answer to people telling them what to do – ‘Sit over there. Eat this.’ They want to remain independent," said Darrell Perkins, eating a hot meal of chicken and rice provided by OSL.
Back in the kitchen, Chef Paul says he knows this is true from experience. He, too, was homeless once, a victim of Hurricane Katrina. He vows that no one will go hungry on his watch.
"We'll continue to feed people whether we have to do it from our doorsteps or from City Hall's doorsteps," he said. "We'll do it, even if we have to get arrested."