"Why now? What did we do wrong? 3 years, no one said anything," said Willie Parish, Jr., executive director of the Bread of Life Mission. "We're meeting needs, people are happy."
The Mission, a local faith-based charity for 74 years, serves three meals a day to hundreds of homeless from its Pioneer Square headquarters. Once a month, every third Saturday, the non-profit heads to City Hall Park to hand out food and water to the homeless outside the county courthouse ("drive-by foodings," the charity called it).
In October, city workers approached Mission volunteers and asked them to stop, Parish said.
"We're just trying to help, and I don't understand why the city want to interfere with an organization that's been around since 1939," he added. "I'd think they'd want to get onboard and encourage us to help."
The primary issue is that the Mission didn't have a permit to serve food outdoors, said David Takami, spokesman for the Seattle Human Services Department, which oversees homeless issues in the city. The secondary issue is with food safety and the safety of volunteers, he added.
"We certainly appreciate that good (they're doing) and their work," Takami said. "But this has been the case where there are a lot of meals served at one time to the same population on the same day. It creates a possible food waste issue, garbage, and in that case a rodent issue."
Takami said the city is working with the Mission and encouraging it to partner with existing groups, such as OSL, which has been serving meals underneath the interstate at 6th and Cherry for years.
"We wash the site, we wash the benches, we make sure it's as safe as possible," said Beverly Graham, who founded the group, which started serving meals in local parks decades ago. "When you're serving somebody in a park you don't know where they're taking that trash and that garbage, so that's very difficult."
"It just is a better way to make use of people's good intentions," added Leslie Smith of the Pioneer Square Alliance. "People come downtown with good intentions, but it makes messes in parks, there are issues of food health practices, safety, etc. What the city's trying to do is to use the good intentions of volunteers to use their best."
Parish said he understands the concern, but after serving the city of generations, just can't get past how serving meals could stir up so much controversy.
"We'll do whatever they want us to do, but let us serve. We serve 300 meals a day here (indoors)," he said. "I'd think they'd want to get onboard and encourage us to help."