Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Olympia City Council Passes Parking Ordinance: Hurts Food Program for Homeless

Above: Ben Charles, second from left, hands out "snack packs" on 4th Avenue outside city hall and listens to someone before tonight's city council meeting.

By Janine Unsoeld

The City of Olympia tonight passed a parking ordinance that negatively impacts the work of a passionate group, Crazy Faith Ministries, that serves hot food and drinks to the homeless.

The ordinance cleans up city parking lot regulations, stating, in part, that lots may only be used for parking, unless an activity is authorized by a city issued permit, lease or unless the activity is conducted by the city.

Crazy Faith uses a public parking lot for its service to feed the homeless two evenings a week. 
Councilmember Karen Rogers voted against the ordinance, and Councilmembers Jeannine Roe and Steve Langer were absent.
During public comment tonight, about 17 people testified against the ordinance, many of whom spoke to council last week.

Before the vote, Councilmember Rogers asked City Manager Steve Hall to give a summary of communication between the city and Crazy Faith Ministries. Hall said that he and city building manager Tom Hill have identified some possible alternative properties, then took everyone by surprise by suggesting that a person in the audience who testified, John Forespring, act as an intermediary between the city and Crazy Faith Ministries.

John Forespring, a local insurance agent in business for 45 years, is a member of the Cowlitz Tribe. In his testimony, he urged better communication between the city and Crazy Faith.

“The main issue is where are they (Crazy Faith) going to do this (service)….I would like to see the city communicate with these people…let’s do what’s right.”

During a council break after the vote, Hall came out to the lobby and apologized to Ben Charles of Crazy Faith Ministries and Forespring for taking them each off guard. Handing them his card, Hall said he hoped there could be some communication.

After Hall left, Charles said to this reporter, “I’m not hard to get a hold of….The challenge is, they refuse to put in writing the process and the location and that makes me apprehensive. I’ve asked multiple times, but have received nothing in writing. I think the lack of trust and lack of follow through - I’ll be honest - does have something to do with communication, and sitting down….I haven’t heard of any alternative locations.

"Not feeding is not an option – should the city not offer a viable location without delay…then we will have to continue feeding where we are at. I dare say they will have to fine us and arrest us. Passing this was a mistake…it saddens me.”

Indeed, Crazy Faith Ministries is not hard to get a hold of.  Today, I contacted Charles by email to ask a few questions and received a detailed response within two hours.

In the email, I asked, in part, what contact he has had to date with the city. Charles responded:

“City manager Steve Hall finally sent me an email last night, the first since October 10. He stated he was not able to get ahold of me via phone - probably because my last email to him stated that email is the form of communication we will use from now on so there is a written form of what is being stated as well as for our response…. Even at last Tuesday night’s city council meeting I told him he would need to email me and yet he still says he tried to call. So I did respond to them to send me what they would like to talk about and as of right now, 1:00 pm on Wednesday, December 10th, there is still nothing from Steve Hall in response. When I see Steve Hall tonight I will bless him but he can email their suggestions to me so I can have the time to make sure about their wording.” 
Crazy Faith Ministries Serves Hundreds

Crazy Faith Ministries chose the specific location near the transit station on purpose:  Charles says that two years ago, he asked street people themselves where they would like Crazy Faith to set up and asked where the worst drug deals went down.

"They responded, 'behind the 4th Ave Tav,' so that's where we decided to set up. Street people say the crime situation in that area is better now," said Charles. 

A graduate of North Thurston High School, Cheyanne French, 19, of Lacey, spoke tonight to city council. She said in an interview earlier tonight that she’s been volunteering with Crazy Faith since August, and was homeless for a few months when she was eight years old in Olympia.

“I like it. I like the feel of helping and seeing people’s happy faces because they’re able to eat something warm.” Her best friend, Kayla Butterfield, 18, agreed.

Butterfield’s mother, Heather Swedburg, also stood nearby. Swedburg said she got involved last August when she heard that Little Caesar’s Hope of Love truck donated 200 pizzas to Crazy Faith.

Asked why she helps out, she responded, “Why not? People need help – everyone has been there where they need help…."
Before the council meeting, Charles gathered a group of supporters around him, prayed, and gave them some advice, “We love our street family where they’re at – we’re not doing anything different now than we were doing before – we’re handing out snack packs, loving people, right where they’re at….Speak from your heart, out of love. That’s how we want to leave things on the table. We’re setting forth to spread God’s Word to the hurting….”

Above: Warm hats, gloves, coats and blankets were free for the taking on Thursday night while Crazy Faith Ministries served hot food and drinks in downtown Olympia across from Intercity Transit on State and Washington Street.
Thursday Night – On The Other Side of the Table
At Washington and State Streets, dinner is served by Crazy Faith Ministries on Thursdays at 6:30 p.m., and Saturdays at 5:30 p.m. They plan to be there on Christmas Day also. 
It was 28 degrees last Thursday night when I volunteered for Crazy Faith Ministries and served about 100 people who needed food. Not as many as usual were present due to the extreme cold. I admit I originally intended to go down and speak with organizers and some folks about their circumstances, but there was no time to talk.
Appropriately, I was instead voluntarily pressed into service because there was a need, so I handed out apples and oranges, while my girlfriend served coffee and hot chocolate. One and a half hours later, my plastic gloved fingers were numb and my hips hurt, frozen in place.
Getting there before the organizers, we witnessed two vans chock full of supplies driving into the parking lot across from Intercity Transit on Washington and State Street, behind Bayside Quilting.
With military precision, organizers jumped out and volunteers, standing by, proceeded to quickly set up two white tents with wind flaps to enclose the space of three parking lot stalls. Next came several tables, hot food and drinks, and several bags full of warm hats, gloves, coats and blankets. Empty black trash bags were tied to the tents to use as trash receptacles.
After a few short words from Ben Charles, a Lower Elwha Klallam tribal member, dinner was served.
Michelle asked each person what they would like to eat: chili with meat, pizza, biscuits and ham gravy, or chicken fettuccine. At first it was a choice, but early on, when someone asked for everything, everyone asked for everything, and everyone got everything. Then some came back for seconds.
There were single male adults, single women, a woman with a little girl, teenagers, and seemingly unaccompanied children.  A little blond girl about 9 years old boldly asked for food while her mom hung back. The mom explained that her daughter wanted to ask for herself.
While my offering of apples and oranges was not popular at first, when I suggested to a child that he take some for later, he did, and others followed suit.

When a little boy, about aged 9, asked for four of everything, I gawked as he took one of everything back to the car where his mom and siblings stayed warm. I just about lost it, and looked over at my girlfriend. She was too busy to notice. She was serving straight hot coffee, hot chocolate with coffee, or water.  
Ed Mills, of Lacey, and his daughter came to help also. Mills says it was his first time helping out, and brought 10 large pizzas from Little Caesar’s in Lacey. When he bought five, employees spontaneously matched his five with five free pizzas. The pizzas were very popular, and were the first food to run out.
Despite the intense cold, people lingered around the table, the light, and each other.
The Mission of Crazy Faith Ministries
Denise and Ben Charles of Olympia have three children ages 13, 9, and 7 and started their ministry in January 2011, after Ben Charles resigned from his job as a traveling speaker for finances.
A blog article by Denise Charles in March 2011 explains, “The Bible says that "He is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." ~John 14:6. We are madly in Love with Jesus and we believe that with Him, all things are possible! And we mean literally everything, and that is why we are called "Crazy Faith!”
A stay-at-home mom, Denise Charles said tonight, “We live on faith. It’s been an incredible testament to prayer. We’ve sacrificed….Building relationships is transformational, and that’s what will change our city – our street family is every bit a part of our community as they are,” she said, referring to the city council and staff.
She added that Saturdays are difficult for their street family.  “We especially see a lot of youth on Saturdays – there’s a gap there, no resources for them….” She said she appreciates everyone who has donated food, saying that Costco donated turkeys on Thanksgiving. “People pull together…."
When I shared my thoughts with Ben Charles in an email today about my experience last Thursday night, Charles wrote back:
The Olympian editorial today catered to hide the things the city is really trying to do. And that is sad….Yes, lots of new faces each and every week. That again is sad. We do see a lot of the same people often. Lots of children at different times. The young man you saw that night, I know the mother very well. We help keep an eye on the kiddos when they are there as well. Many parents with children will come and know we love our Street Family and their children so they spend extra time with us…..I also have hundreds of adopted street sons and daughters I see regularly. Not just at the feeds but when we stop by to check on them.” 
Crazy Faith Ministries appreciates donations of warm clothes, socks, gloves, blankets, food being made/bought, and servers.


Log Truck Loses Its Load

by Janine Unsoeld

A log truck with M&M Transport Services, Inc. of Chehalis lost its load this afternoon in the Olympic Way roundabout in Olympia. The bundle of logs apparently remained intact. Pictures, above and below, were taken at 12:20 p.m.. Traffic is currently backed up on Harrison Avenue, 5th Avenue, the 4th Avenue bridge, and Hospital Hill.

A woman who answered the telephone at M&M Transport at 12:40 p.m. said there were no injuries and someone from their company is currently speaking to the driver. The driver was seen sitting in the vehicle. Police are present. The woman declined to give more information about the transportation of the logs.

According to their website, M&M Transport Services, Inc. was founded in 1990 by Mark R. Warsofsky and is a nationwide transportation provider for some of the biggest retail, manufacturing, distribution and logistics companies in the country.