By CORY ELIA
Offering consistent food-related support to the houseless and food insecure residents throughout Portland is the mission of several volunteer groups.
However, due to a new City permit requirement proposed by Commissioner Nick Fish, these services will either be drastically reduced or completely shut down.
“Is the city gonna pick up the slack of the people out here doing the work or will they leave their citizen out in the cold starving?”– Kristle Delihanty of PDX Saints
Free Hot Soup is one service group, and on any given weeknight, they feed anywhere from 50 to 200 individuals in downtown’s Directors Park.
editor’s note: One of the Free Hot Soup volunteers reached out to us and said he thought the word “confronts” in the caption above was a mis-characterization. He said that the ranger passed out envelopes saying that the volunteers didn’t need permits or insurance. In the spirit of honoring people’s agency in having their own story told as they see fit— I wanted to include that feedback.
My thinking was / is: all officers of the law should be respectful and friendly as they exercise their duties, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that they’re doing their job enforcing laws / rules. Having one’s actions be addressed by an officer carries a lot of weight and potential for escalation (especially since the volunteers were serving without a permit), which is why we used the term “confront” rather than a less aggressive term. – ATW
According to the Oregonian‘s reporting, the permit will limit social services to only being able to serve once a week in a location, and requires groups to file a $137.75 application fee and obtain insurance.
Several volunteers say the City’s ordinance may be a tactic by the City to force the houseless they serve out of the area of Directors Park— because it is surrounded by expensive luxury high-rise apartments, expensive shops, and ritzy hotels.
In the Oregonian story, Fish denied that, saying that the new permit system will help the City better plan, coordinate, and supervise park activities, as well as help spread social services to other parts of the city.
More than one in seven (14.6 percent) of Oregon households were “food insecure” during the three-year period of 2014 – 16 [most recent statistics].
In 2016, three out of 10 Oregonians struggling with food security lived well above the poverty line, with income high enough that they were not eligible for public nutrition assistance.– Oregon Center for Public Policy
Along with downtown, the new permit would impact service groups in other parts of the City as well.
PDX Saints is another of the groups doing outreach in the form of meals, serving at Lents Park every Friday alongside the group Boots on the Ground PDX which offers clothing and shoes for those in need.
Kristle Delihanty of PDX Saints spoke with Village Portland during the group’s meal services in Lents Park on Friday, November 1st.
“My main concern is that this ordinance could leave a lot of people hungry on the streets without something to eat,” she said, based on the fact of how many people Free Hot Soup and her group serve in a given weeks. Free Hot Soup attracting hundreds some nights.
Delihanty wondered, “is the city gonna pick up the slack of the people out here doing the work or will they leave their citizen out in the cold starving?”
“The new ordinance would require groups doing this kind of service to meet a set of requirements, I’m not sure how that will affect Free Hot Soup but they do a lot of good work downtown and I would hate to see that stop,” Delihanty said, as she serve food to the more than a dozen individuals who showed up for a meal.
Mayoral Candidate Sarah Iannarone showed up for the Lent’s PDX Saints service with hot tea for individuals. She took the time to help those that wanted the tea to get a cup. “The work these groups do is immensely important to the houseless community and they should be allowed to continue this work.” Iannarone took the time to talk with the different community members who showed up for the meal and volunteers who were serving.
While the services of PDX Saints in Lents Park were uninterrupted by anyone, the larger gathering downtown for Free Hot Soup attracted around hundred individuals for their services. Prior to setting up for the event, volunteers were approached by Portland Park Rangers who told them about the new ordinance, but also thanked the group for their service.
The meal was vegetarian stew, bread, and a number of other sides along with coffee, tea, and other options to drink.
“I’m not sure the new ordinance applies to Free Hot Soup,” stated Troy Howard, a volunteer who has been helping with the group for quite a while. “Free Hot Soup isn’t really an organization, there are different volunteers every night,” and goes on to say, “we’re more like a group of friends having a giant picnic.”
Describing itself as “Free vegan community picnics all year round!” Food Not Bombs PDX hosts four gatherings around Portland every week for the houseless community and food insecure folks.
The food they cook with and distribute would otherwise be composted or sent to a landfill, they wrote on their Facebook page.
We reached out to get a comment from about the new permit system and how it would impact their group’s work. Eric from the Wednesday serving said that they have heard about it but they haven’t been affected as far as they knew.
The group is looking for someone to bottomline a serving on Fridays at Dawson Park (N Stanton St & Williams Ave). See their web page for more information. They wrote that they will have to cancel this week if no one can be found.
Based on the need and number of people served, the work these groups do is important to the community of Portland— because it means they know where to get a hot meal.
It is unknown at this point exactly which organizations will be impacted— if any— but the groups Free Hot Soup, PDX Saints, and Boots on the Ground have said that they intend to continue their work despite what the City says.
Cory Elia is a journalist, photographer, videographer, documentary director & producer, radio personality & podcaster. His journalistic focus is on politics, protest, and poverty.
Facebook: Cory Elia