10/23/2014

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Group told to stop feeding the homeless in downtown Olympia

Group told to stop feeding the homeless in downtown Olympia
OLYMPIA, Wash. -- A battle between City Hall and a homeless outreach ministry is about to come to a head in Olympia.

Members of the outreach organization believe they have the right to feed the homeless, but city leaders say they're endangering people's safety and they need to close up shop.

Despite being told not to, the group is continuing to feed the homeless every Thursday in a parking lot at Washington Street and State Avenue.

Ben Charles, who runs Crazy Faith Outreach, said his group hands out 500 meals each week to people living on the streets.

"We just want to create a sense of community, and that's all we're doing," Charles said.

But two weeks ago the outreach hit a snag when several nearby business owners, including Pam Tuttle, complained to the city.

"We end up with a lot of traffic," Tuttle said. "We have had problems with garbage."

Charles said he's been working on cleaning up the area, but Tuttle and others wish he'd just go somewhere else.

"I think it could be done in another area," she said.

City Manager Steve Hall said after he received those complaints, Olympia police investigated and found several safety violations, including dozens of people walking into traffic and blocking cars.

"We're responsible for public safety, and when people use public property in an unsafe manner it's our responsibility to step in and say this can't happen," Hall said.

Charles said he's not going to stop what he's doing.

"Not feeding is not an option," he said. "We're going to be feeding about 630."

Charles' outreach efforts aren't just about feeding the homeless, either. A local homeless man named Alex said Charles helped him kick a drug addiction.

"They've always helped me," Alex said. "I'm doing a lot better and they've been an inspiration."

He and others wonder what will happen and where they'll get their food if Charles and his group are forced to shut down.

"I think if they're not down here things are going to fall apart," one woman said.

The city isn't saying the group can't feed the homeless, just that they can't do it in that parking lot. Charles says he's not moving, and city leaders say they'll soon be forced to ticket him.
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