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Orange nonprofit serving the unhoused can stay open after judge grants temporary restraining order

A woman has lunch
Starla Acosta, 65, has lunch at Mary’s Kitchen in Orange on July 13.
(Scott Smeltzer / Times Community News)

The city of Orange will not be able to forcibly shut down a nonprofit serving homeless people after a judge granted a temporary restraining order a day before Mary’s Kitchen was required to clear out of its location.

In his decision, U.S. District Judge David O. Carter said the requested order established that clients of Mary’s Kitchen “are likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief.”

“Without a TRO, Mary’s Kitchen will be shut down on Sept. 18, 2021 after 36 years of offering services to individuals impacted by homelessness,” Carter said in his decision. “The organization will lose its physical location and tens of thousands of dollars of infrastructure investments. In addition, the individual plaintiffs allege that they rely on Mary’s Kitchen for food, daily hygiene and medical services. Without Mary’s Kitchen, the individual plaintiffs will likely suffer substantial hardship to obtain these services. These dangers are compounded as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.”

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City spokesman Paul Sitkoff said in an email Friday that Orange “will comply with the TRO and is working on a response.”

The temporary restraining order will be in effect until at least Sept. 30, when there will be a hearing for a preliminary injunction.

The nonprofit has been fighting to stay open since the city sent a letter in June terminating its lease three years early, giving Mary’s Kitchen until Saturday to move out. The nonprofit has been operating in Orange since the mid-1980s and has been at its location at 517 W. Struck Ave. since 1994.

Hundreds have come to rely on the various services that Mary’s Kitchen offers, which includes three meals, six days a week. Showers and laundry facilities are available, and the nonprofit receives mail for hundreds of people.

The restraining order request said the clients of Mary’s Kitchen will be endangered if the nonprofit is closed because it’s the only homeless service provider in the city for adults without minor children.

“If the city is permitted to shut down Mary’s Kitchen, significant harm will occur to the hundreds of seniors, veterans and people with disabilities plaintiff serves and for whom this is the only place in the city to access basic hygiene facilities and sustenance, receive their benefits and other important mail and, critically, the only place in the city to find some protection from the elements during the day,” the legal document says.

The city contends that the nonprofit has become a magnet for crime and doesn’t fit into a continuum of care approach to solving homelessness.

During a City Council meeting this week, Mayor Mark Murphy and Council Member Chip Monaco made remarks about increased crime on the street where Mary’s Kitchen is located.

“A civil society requires rules and laws, as well as compassion,” Monaco said. “Mary’s Kitchen has become a place where compassion overlooks the law.”

Monaco said he is confident the city will prevail against any lawsuits.

Murphy was steadfast in his support of the nonprofit’s closure: “Mary’s Kitchen will close and we will start over with a clean slate and figure out how to go next and where to go next.”

Brazil writes for Times Community News.

Updates

5:19 p.m. Sept. 17, 2021: This story was updated after a judge granted a temporary restraining order on Friday.


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