Proposed parking regulations could jeopardize Olympia homeless meal program

However city official says changes "only clarify what already exists"

OlympianDecember 3, 2013 

Ben Charles organizes volunteers to set up the Crazy Faith Ministries free Thanksgiving Day meal in an empty parking lot in downtown Olympia on Thursday, Nov. 22, 2012.

TONY OVERMAN; STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

The founder of a street ministry said proposed changes to Olympia’s parking ordinance could jeopardize a weekly outreach program that feeds hundreds of people every week.

The City Council is scheduled to consider proposed changes to the parking ordinance during its meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The new regulations include an annual registration of $10 for all cars in the city’s residential program, a ban on overnight camping in city lots and added language that city-owned parking lots may only be used for parking unless an activity is authorized by a city-issued permit, according to a report included in the City Council’s agenda packet.

Ben Charles and Denise Charles with Crazy Faith have offered weekly meals at a city-owned parking lot at State Avenue and Washington Street for the past few years. After receiving some complaints about traffic congestion in the area, the city banned the group from the site in October. But the couple has continued the feeding program, saying they’re not breaking any laws.  

Ben Charles calls the proposed regulations “a sneaky maneuver to try to force Crazy Faith out of the area,” adding that the proposed penalties for breaking the ordinance include fines or jail time.

“This is completely unjust and unconstitutional,” he said in a statement he released Tuesday morning. “The city’s existing laws are perfectly adequate to protect the public health and safety, and Crazy Faith works hard to ensure that they are abiding those laws while still providing for those who cannot currently provide for themselves. But this new ordinance is plainly intended to give the city the power to decide whether citizens may gather peacefully on public property.”


He said he’s planning to speak against the proposed changes at the meeting, which is open to the public, at City Hall, 601 4th Ave. E., Olympia.

Meantime, city manager Steve Hall said the proposed changes are not about a specific group or activity, and are meant to "only clarify what already exists."

"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. There are other sections of the city code that make that clear. This amendment to the parking code only clarifies that requirement in case someone looks only at the parking codes. Any non-sanctioned activities on city property without a permit are already subject to infraction without these code changes."  

For more information on the meeting, call 360-753-8447 or go to olympiawa.gov.

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