Homeless meal program on hold

GLENDALE — Administrators of a daily homeless meals program — the only one of its kind in the city — have suspended operations indefinitely, citing the need for a permanent location in the wake of what they say has become an ineffective system of rotating the program among a half-dozen churches.

The Lord's Kitchen program started serving warm meals to the city's homeless population at various local churches that shared hosting duties on a rotating monthly basis after the Salvation Army Glendale ended the program in 2005 after 15 years.

Parents whose children were in an after school program at the Salvation Army were concerned about the transients loitering in the area and began withdrawing their children, prompting the army to close the kitchen.

Under the Salvation Army more than 100 transients were served lunch every weekday, but since the rotating church agreement took effect those numbers have fallen to between 40 and 50, said David Earle, executive director of Food For Body & Soul, which operates the Lord's Kitchen program.

Stakeholders in the meals program say a permanent location would increase participation by making it easier for transients to incorporate the meal into their daily routines.

Despite fewer clients, the amount of work and preparation it takes to put out the meals has remained relatively constant, and changing church demographics has made finding volunteers more difficult, program coordinators say.

“Is it that worth the time and effort?” Earle asked.

The program was already on thin ice earlier this year without a host church lined up for February. Holy Family Catholic Church agreed to host the meals program through the end of February, but the growing instability fueled a push to find a permanent location before March.

That didn't happen, and so with no alternative on the table — and with a certain amount of frustration — Earle has suspended operations until a site is found.

“It's just not working the way it is right now,” he said.

Community development officials are evaluating city-owned “assets,” but no firm options will be laid out until the city's Homeless Coalition meets Thursday to discuss the issue, said Jess Duran, assistant director of the Community Development and Housing Department.

Pressure to find a new host location is on as the emergency winter shelter at the Burbank armory prepares to shut down on March 15, homeless service providers said.

Los Angeles-based Union Rescue Mission operates the shelter and provides clients, many of them from Glendale, with dinner and a sack lunch before they leave.

But many of those lunches are treated as breakfast, which leaves the midday meal unfulfilled, said Carrie Gatlin, vice president of government relations and special projects for the rescue mission.

“That is definitely a necessary program in Glendale,” she said.

Even before that food source dries up, local service providers are concerned about the health implications of the program's suspension.

“For many, [the Lord's Kitchen is] their only meal of the day,” said Natalie Profant-Komuro, executive director of PATH Achieve Glendale, the city's largest nonprofit homeless services provider.

Strict zoning laws prevent her south Glendale site on San Fernando Way from hosting the program, she added.

The Lord's Kitchen program will be suspended in Glendale until a permanent location is found, even if the search extends beyond the Burbank shelter's closure, Earle said.

While a building with kitchen facilities would be ideal, Earle said a simple drop-off location for sack lunches — like the area near one of the gazebo-type structures at the Glendale Amtrak Station — would be acceptable at this point.

Over the past couple of months, Earle has been trying to convert churches to a sack lunch meals program as a way to tap into a potentially larger volunteer base that normally cannot help prepare hot meals during the day when they are served. The idea has gained traction with some and has been slow to catch on with others, but almost all churches support the idea of a permanent service location from a planning standpoint.

“[A permanent location] would be wonderful,” said Vickie Van Paddenburg, an office administrator at Church of the Incarnation, which hosts the Lord's Kitchen for a month in the summer.

“I do think it would grow immensely.”

A permanent site would most likely not be at a church, Earle said, since many have private schools and other child care programs that administrators say are incompatible with a constant homeless population that often includes those who suffer from mental illness and substance abuse problems.

The volatile nature of the transient population creates a thin line that church congregants must walk between compassion to the homeless and the need to prevent any potential conflict, said Pastor John Jackson of the Glendale Church of the Brethren, also a Lord's Kitchen host.

“There has to be reasonable precautions,” he said.

That conflict eventually became too much for the Salvation Army, which in 2005 decided to no longer host the meals program after administrators there saw preschool enrollment drop 40 to just eight students in 10 years — mostly due to parental concerns over loitering transients.

Capt. Jim Sloan was eventually forced to temporarily cut after-school programs after becoming what he called “a homeless site.”

Now, three years later, the citywide homeless meals program depends on yet another new strategy and location, Earle said.

“Sometimes things have to die so they can be resurrected,” he said.


?JASON WELLS covers City Hall. He may be reached at (818) 637-3235 or by e-mail at jason.wells@latimes.com.

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