A street ministry in Olympia, Washington focused on feeding the homeless is currently fighting attempts to have their work criminalized by the city.
Ben Charles, founder of Crazy Faith Ministries, has fed the area’s homeless population every Thursday and Saturday from the same parking lot for the last two years, handing out as many as 5,000 meals per month.
“As anyone who works with the impoverished will know, the best and sometimes the only way to help them is to meet them right where they are, rather than expect them to come to you,” said Charles.
Although the group has had a long and highly supported presence in the area, complaints began arising regarding issues such as vehicle traffic being blocked from the growing number of hungry people coming to be fed. In October, Charles received notice from the Olympia Police Department that his group would no longer be allowed to use the lot, although unable to cite any law broken.
Despite the city’s attempts, Crazy Faith politely declined to comply, saying the lot was the only area available to use. Charles, who is of Native American decent, refused to give up the Native tradition of helping others in his community.
“We and our street family are the public and we are peacefully gathering together for our common good. That is the birthright not only of Native people, but the constitutional right of all Washingtonians,” Charles said.
Unsuccessful in getting the group to vacate, the city is now attempting to use red-tape and bureaucracy by passing a new ordinance that would require the group to purchase permits for any activity in city-owned parking lots. Using any lot without permission from the city government could result in fines and jail time.
During a Tuesday City Council meeting, the council voted 6-1 to send the ordinance to a second reading, opposing ministry supporters in attendance.
“The City Council should be deeply ashamed that it would even consider attempting to block off this property so that it can only be used by people with cars or people who first get the government’s permission,” Charles said.
Groups such as Washington state’s Freedom Foundation have taken notice, prompting them to offer their full support to Charles and the ministry.
“We have been following the nationwide trend of governments cracking down on private acts of charity for a while now and we see it happening in our own backyard,” Dave Roland, attorney and director of the Stiles Center for Liberty at the Freedom Foundation told Storyleak.
“We have a young man who is doing his best to fulfill the highest calling for both Americans and Christians to provide for people in need and the government is saying, ‘only on our terms.’ We think that is a huge constitutional problem and that is why we decided to reach out to Charles and try to help.”
According to city manager Steve Hall, the proposed ordinance is about enhancing public safety, not about targeting the ministry for feeding homeless, despite the group being allowed to do so for years.
“If you want to use public property, you need to get a temporary use permit, obstruction permit or a festival event permit,” Hall said. “This ensures that the activity can be conducted safely and balances the rights of all interested parties rather than one group taking over public space without process or clear expectations.”
According to Charles, Hall also promised to stay in touch with the ministry in hopes to come to a solution, but has failed to do so for several months.
“Steve Hall’s last words were,’we will be in touch with you’ and nothing has been attempted in any way shape or form from the city since October. Yet they email people back and say we refuse to meet with them. We have never been offered a solution or contacted,” Charles said.
A second reading for the proposed ordinance is set for 7 p.m. next Tuesday at Olympia City Hall.
The situation in Olympia is strikingly similar to many others occurring across the country at a growing rate. Just last month, a church group in Lake Worth, FL was kicked out of a public park by a park ranger for feeding homeless residents.
Similar to Crazy Faith, the secular group “Food Not Bombs” defied orders from the city of Orlando after a 2011 federal appeals court ruling granted them the ability to restrict any group feeding the homeless.
As the economy continues to weaken, pushing more Americans into hardship, civil disobedience has become increasingly prevalent, as individuals choose helping the less-fortunate over obeying countless regulations and commands.