More than 50 people from churches and groups that serve meals and provide services to homeless people downtown met Thursday night in an effort to evaluate and better coordinate their efforts. As Ben Montoya, one of the organizers, says, “Can we do what we do better?”
The meeting included groups that set up shop in the streets to share sandwiches or hot food, some of which follow coordinated schedules and locations, others of which are more spontaneous. Most came from downtown-based churches or groups, but some of those at the meeting represented feeding programs from UC San Diego and a church in Rancho Bernardo.
Feeding programs often draw detractors, including a sharp recent criticism from Boyd Long, a longtime police official who recently left the department.
He had harsh words for groups that offer food and socks.
Guess what, Mr. and Mrs. Do-Gooder? You just came down from (Rancho) Penasquitos with your troupe from church and there’s a dozen of you in a beautiful white van, you’re feeling really good about giving out sandwiches and socks and coffee?
I love it. You’re doing God’s work. You’re not helping the homeless. You’re helping them remain homeless.
Montoya, an elder at First Presbyterian Church in Bankers Hill, said members of a consortium, the Downtown Fellowship, have been talking for a few months about putting an event like Thursday’s together. They wanted to air ideas about helping homeless people in the best and most holistic ways — “better than a feel-good feeding and then leaving,” he said.
“Building relationships was a big part of the feedback” at Thursday’s meeting, Montoya said.
Thursday’s meeting included presentations from Ryan Loofbourrow, director of the Downtown Clean and Safe program, an arm of the Downtown San Diego Partnership business organization. Trash left behind after food distributions, long lines and safety issues have sparked concern among downtown businesses and residents about some group efforts. Loofbourrow said his staff members often end up picking up trash left after feedings or clothing drop-offs, Montoya said.
Other issues raised included the nutrition of the food served and the coordination of feedings with other groups to avoid redundancy.
“You would think that some of the people there would feel like maybe they were being attacked, but they felt the opposite, emboldened by it,” Montoya said. “Everybody wants to make this better.”
I’m Kelly Bennett, reporter for Voice of San Diego. You can reach me directly at email@example.com or 619.325.0531.
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