Health Dept., LAPD continues crackdown on Skid Row charities

April 11, 2011

Volunteers from the Los Angeles Catholic Worker, one of several charities that distributes food to the homeless, serve up lentil soup at the first Right to Share Food event on Sept. 30, 2010. Last week, LA Catholic Worker was ordered to stop serving food to the homeless by the Health Dept. (Dan Bluemel / LA Activist)

Health inspectors, accompanied by police, issued a notice of violation to volunteers from the Los Angeles Catholic Worker and ordered them to stop feeding the homeless on Friday, April 8.

Martha Lewis, a community member of the LA Catholic Worker, said they were warned on April 6 to cease their feeding operations on Skid Row, but the organization went ahead with their original plans.

“They said we can’t serve on the sidewalk,” said Lewis. “[They said] we would have to have four walls and a covering and a portable toilet.”

The Health Dept. says it is concerned about safety, fearing food poisoning.

“Our job here is food protection. And from what I’ve seen, these groups sometimes dismiss the importance of our priorities,” said Health Dept. spokesman Terrance Powell to LA Activist in Sept. 2010.

LA Catholic Worker, aka Hippie Kitchen, has been serving food at their current location on Skid Row for 10 years. The organization celebrated its 40th anniversary last year.

According to Lewis, volunteers had been serving coffee, eggs, fruit and doughnuts when told to cease.

The Health Dept. and police began targeting charities in this fashion nearly a year ago. On June 2, 2010, the Health Dept. shut down the Towne Avenue Soup Line that was run by World Agape Church. The soup line had operated for five years.

“We had sort of thought we were going to be immune from that, because the Hippie Kitchen, where we prepare the food, is Health Dept. inspected,” said Lewis.

Health inspectors told volunteers they were responding to complaints made by loft-dwellers in the nearby Arts District. That may be partially true, said Lewis, but she thinks the Health Dept. and police response is related to the Safer Cities Initiative.

The Safer Cities Initiative began in 2006 as an effort to curb crime on Skid Row. Critics say it is a plan to push out the indigent to make way for redevelopment.

“Government is attacking the homeless by harassing the volunteers who come out to feed and otherwise assist them,” said Right To Share Food Coalition organizer Michael Hubman in a statement. “These gentrification boosters are using the county to do their dirty work.”

The shutting down of the Towne Avenue Soup Line spawned the “right to share food movement” in Los Angeles. Since then, organizers have held two events to feed the homeless in an effort to affirm their right to share food. According to Hubman, he is proposing the next event for June 2 – the anniversary of the Towne Avenue Soup Line shutdown.

For now, Lewis said, the LA Catholic Worker is assessing their options so they can continue feeding the homeless.

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One Response to Health Dept., LAPD continues crackdown on Skid Row charities

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