The city's Human Services Department (HSD) plans to close down the Outdoor Meal Site under I-5 at 6th and Cherry and move all city-sanctioned meal services to multiple indoor locations and create what Mayor Mike McGinn yesterday called a "more dignified" indoor meal site. In 2011, service providers including more than a dozen charities and churches served more than 150,000 meals at the site, providing food to at least 6,000 individuals.

Citing public safety concerns related to the site's proximity to the freeway and several major streets, HSD spokesman David Takami said, "the rationale is to improve access to services for the mall participants in place that's warmer and safer and increase the use of existing service providers" currently providing meals to the homeless.

Service providers argue that they can provide more meals at lower cost outdoors, where they do not have to pay rent. In a fact sheet responding to the proposal (which HSD can implement without legislation or city council approval), the Meals Partnership Coalition called the site "a vital resource to the wellbeing of our community."

"If we must move the OMS it must be kept in the downtown corridor with meal provider access 7 days a week and the ability for those who fear the indoors to obtain a nutritious and safe meal," the fact sheet continues. "Unless a compromise is found, meal providers will be forced back into downtown parks to feed those in need which will increase litter and rodent issues."

We have a call out to Shayne Kraemer, the director of the Meals Partnership Coalition.

HSD's homelessness intervention director, Al Poole, says the city won't close down the outdoor site until it has enough service providers lined up to serve everyone who is currently being served. "That would be one of our key concerns before the outdoor meal program was closed, if indeed it gets closed," Poole said. And he said that while most people who get meals at the outdoor meal site also get meals indoors at places like the Union Gospel Mission, the city will work to accommodate anyone who does not want to get a meal at an indoor location, perhaps by allowing them to take their food outside.

In a letter dated January 6, city council housing committee chair Nick Licata asked HSD director Dannette Smith to include current outdoor meal providers in the process of choosing a new site and provider for meal service. "I know that you share my concern that reduced public access to safe meals will harm our community and I thank you for your consideration of my suggestions and look forward to a productive outcome from these discussions."

Smith and Assistant Police Chief Mike Sanford are scheduled to meet with Licata's staff on Friday, and Takami says the department plans to make a decision within the next few weeks.

Back in 2004, Mayor Greg Nickels abruptly ended public outdoor meals in City Hall Park to the chagrin of many of the same groups that would be impacted by the latest HSD proposal. At the time, then-mayoral staffer Edsonya Charles said the meals were contributing to violence in the area---one reason she was ultimately removed from Nickels' staff and appointed to the Seattle Municipal Court. Takami said those kind of public safety concerns are not an issue at the current outdoor meal site.

Seattle Politics