Attorney Warns Against Move to Close Homeless Services Organization

ORANGE (CNS) - An attorney for Mary's Kitchen put officials in Orange on notice today to back off from move to shut down the homeless services organization.

Attorney Brooke Weitzman of the Elder Law and Disability Rights Center, which was involved in the federal settlement establishing efforts to transition transients in permanent housing in Orange County, sent a letter to city officials on Monday warning them that they are required by law to hold a public hearing about the plans to close Mary's Kitchen.

"In the midst of a global pandemic, as people on our streets (are) dying at twice the rate of 2019, and access to safe food or clean water is limited, we are shocked that without a single public meeting the city of Orange seeks to close the only service within its borders for our most vulnerable residents in violation of the recently renewed lease agreement and the law," Weitzman wrote in the letter to City Manager Rick Otto and other officials.

Referring to efforts in other neighboring cities where temporary shelters are being established to help transition the homeless into permanent housing, Orange "appears to intend to starve unhoused persons of critical resources needed to survive," Weitzman said.

Mary's Kitchen provides meals as well as showers and a place for transients to receive mail. The organization received a notice from the city June 18 declaring that it may terminate its agreement with the nonprofit organization with 30 days notice and that the city wants the organization out by Sept. 18.

Paul Sitkoff, a spokesman for the city, said officials could not comment on "potential pending litigation."

Mary's Kitchen has an agreement with the city that is not due to expire until 2024, Weitzman said. She argued the city must hold a public hearing about the cancellation of the agreement because the city has failed to provide a reason for shutting it down.

Weitzman said the letter the city sent to Mary's Kitchen contained "baseless conclusions that are simply not supported by facts, effectively blaming Mary's Kitchen for the city's failure to address the housing crisis, health care needs of its most impoverished residents and any and all other issues in the public space outside of Mary's Kitchen property."

Any homeless problem within the city is the fault of the city's leadership, she argued, because it has not participated in the federal court settlement to help transients get into permanent housing.

Weitzman pointed out that Fullerton has worked to establish more beds for the homeless, "while the city of Orange did nothing despite having over 340 people living in the streets during the 2019 point in time count and, likely considerably more as a result of the pandemic."

Mary's Kitchen "stands ready to partner with the city of Orange, as it has for over 30 years," Weitzman wrote. "And Mary's Kitchen would be thrilled to have the city as a partner in building long-term evidence-based solutions. But Mary's Kitchen cannot and will not be scapegoated and made to bear the weight of the city's failures."

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