The leader of Crazy Faith Outreach is disputing a ticket he received for feeding people in a downtown Olympia parking lot without a permit.
Ben Charles and his outreach organization host free meals Thursday and Saturday evenings in a parking lot at the southeast corner of State Avenue and Washington Street. Anyone is welcome to eat, but the meals primarily serve the homeless community.
City code requires a permit to host an event in a city-owned parking lot. Charles has hosted the meals for nearly three years at the lot without a permit. On June 19, Olympia police issued a citation for $103.
The two sides met in municipal court Thursday.
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Olympia Police Lt. Paul Lower, who wrote the citation, was cross-examined on the witness stand. Lower said the Crazy Faith gatherings have generated complaints from nearby business owners over litter and blocked parking. Lower also said he didn’t talk to Charles in person June 19 and instead mailed the citation.
“This is the first time I’ve written a ticket like this,” Lower said Thursday.
Jeffrey Myers, an attorney representing the city, noted that the city has offered an alternative parking lot nearby for Crazy Faith to use for free. Myers also argued that a similar outreach group, CityGates Ministries, paid a $200 permit fee for its own weekly gatherings at State and Adams Street, which is a block away from the Crazy Faith gatherings.
“He’s the person responsible for that as an overseer,” Myers said of Charles. “He was conducting activity without a permit.”
Charles’ attorney, Dave Roland, argued for dismissal of the citation on several counts. One reason, he said, was that Charles claimed he did not unload tents and tables at the June 19 gathering, as noted in the citation.
Charles also took the stand to deny wrongdoing in regards to the citation. Charles acknowledged receiving notice from City Manager Steve Hall about the alleged permit violations, but said his requests for more information went unanswered. In that notice, Hall told Charles that enforcement would begin if Crazy Faith continued its non-permitted use of the parking lot.
Judge Chris Coker heard the case Thursday in municipal court and said he will issue a decision next week.
Regardless of the decision, Crazy Faith’s meals will continue at the parking lot, just like they have since the citation was issued.
“They intend to continue to serve until they cannot,” said Roland, arguing that the city cannot put conditions on Crazy Faith’s otherwise constitutional right to peaceful assembly. “They’re using this property for a laudable purpose.”