Olympia gives ultimatum to Crazy Faith Outreach over downtown parking lot

Olympia will start ticketing Crazy Faith Outreach if the ministry keeps hosting free weekly meals in a downtown parking lot without a permit.

Hungry people of all ages – including parents with young children - gathered Thursday evening in a city-owned parking lot at State Avenue and Washington Street. Volunteers served hundreds of hot dogs along with potato salad, chips and cake. Some supporters discouraged people from jaywalking to the site. In response to rumors of citations, one man set up a video camera to document any encounters with police.

“We’re on good terms with all of our officers. We really appreciate them,” said Charles, who started Crazy Faith’s meals three years ago at the parking lot. “We’re here to feed. We’re here to take care of the hurt and the lost.”

No officers approached organizer Ben Charles at Thursday’s meal, but that will change. City Manager Steve Hall told The Olympian that unless Crazy Faith finds a new location, police will issue civil citations starting this month for every offense.

Hall sent a letter June 4 to Charles regarding complaints from downtown business owners over Crazy Faith’s use of the parking lot and the crowds it attracts. In response, the city has offered an alternate location two blocks away at State and Adams streets. It’s the same vacant gravel lot that’s used by City Gates Ministries, also on Thursday evening.

The ongoing conflict between Crazy Faith and the city last drew public attention in December 2013. That’s when the Olympia City Council passed a law requiring a permit for non-parking functions at city-owned lots.

Charles said he disagrees with the need to apply for a permit just so that Crazy Faith’s street family can peacefully assemble on publicly owned property. He said the suggested alternate location at the gravel lot is not functional for participants who need strollers and wheelchairs.

The city will waive Crazy Faith’s permit fees for the gravel lot, according to the June 4 letter, which acknowledges the efforts Charles is making to feed “poor and homeless people in the Olympia community.”

“If we can’t reach some agreement on changing your location, the city will have no option other than to begin enforcement action concerning your unpermitted use of the city parking lot,” Hall wrote. “We have an obligation to other citizens who would like to use public property for its dedicated purpose and an overriding concern about public safety.”

City Gates Ministries Pastor Phil Prietto said Crazy Faith is welcome to share the gravel lot on Thursdays. City Gates paid a $200 permit fee to use the lot, according to a February application.

“In 20 years of doing ministry on the street, this year was the first year I was asked to pull a permit,” said Prietto, noting that City Gates and Olympia have a good relationship – even when the city made him move. “Every time the city has come to us with concerns, it has allowed us to grow.”

While Crazy Faith focuses on food and friendship, City Gates partners with dozens of churches to deliver clothing, hygiene supplies and basic necessities for hundreds of low-income people a month. Prietto thinks the two camps can co-exist on the gravel lot and fulfill their missions.

“We’re there on the same night, we’re feeding the same people,” Prietto said. “They’re going to follow Ben Charles wherever he goes. He’s got good food.”