Since the City of Seattle and OSL collaboration began in 2007, OSL has had the responsibility to manage the Outdoor Meal Site (OMS). One quarter of the 460,000 meals we serve each year, are served at the OMS. The benefits of the OMS include a centralized location where those who are hungry can find a nutritionally dense, great tasting meal. These meals are served without prerequisite or judgment and are prepared in Health Department Certified kitchens, by people who have food safety in mind. Because of the extreme care taken with the preparation, content, and delivery of the meals served at the OMS contributes to well-being and overall health of the population being served. The OMS is located under the freeway, with the only public toilet open to un-housed individuals in Seattle, a place to wash hands and security present at every meal. This small spot accomplishes big things.
The OMS offers an alternative to meal providers who otherwise would serve in public parks or on the street. Serving in parks can create rodent and other public health issues, as well as creating un-welcoming environments for the general populace and merchants of Seattle. This is a good neighbor collaboration with local businesses, law enforcement, and the parks department.
On top of the 100,000 meals OSL serves at the OMS every year, logistically, our management duty to the OMS includes provider scheduling, cleaning, phone calls and staffing. We purchase equipment, make sure the porta-potty is clean, and stand up for those in need and the providers who serve those needs. One other important facet of the OMS management is a decade long attempt to engage providers who continue to serve in Seattle’s parks, creating a public nuisance and health detriment. We reconnoiter, educate, and offer our expertise and resources to encourage migration into the OMS. (If you would like to know about many of the complications facing outdoor meal providers, please see: http://serveseattlemealssafely.org/)
In August of 2012, I was charged to take my shift in City Hall and Occidental parks, awaiting the arrival of meal providers who had served in the park several weeks in a row. I had two one hour shifts, and here is my writing from that day:
Here I am, sitting in the sun in the middle of pioneer-square, surrounded by the people who I know we serve at the OMS, but there is no one serving food. There is evangelization. I have been sitting quietly so I don’t disturb a gentleman who is doing his best to sleep on this gorgeous Sunday morning. I was able to take a ride with the park rangers, and I have spoken with an un-housed gentleman about his amazing new pairs of socks which he got yesterday from a hygiene center. He was thrilled about them.
My purpose today may go unmet; I have not seen a single rogue meal provider, but still I did do good things, including an educational conversation with the park rangers. It seems as though they had no idea where and when we serve at the OMS. They don’t know they are to tell meal providers that there are other options and to contact OSL or these options.
I am degrading now, into aimless, stream of consciousness writing, spewing out my observations, in attempt to remember what to ask my far more experienced coworkers.
I don’t know what it means to sleep on cobblestone. What the protocol is if one finds abandon cardboard, which is used to cushion the body from the hardness or coldness of the ground and or the wetness of the grass…If someone walks away from it, is fair game? I could use that cardboard right about now. Would I have an even stronger hatred of seagulls were I to share a home with them? Or would some sort of respect be established? Do these trees provide any protection from the rain? Does one simply learn to sleep through the 2 am last call here, when all the bars close and hundreds of people just flow out into their bedrooms? Why is that guy peeing on the outside? Why, dear God, do we have so many houses without people and people without houses? What I do is so insignificant; however, it is so very important that I do it . . .
The writing ends there, but that was because I was busy for the rest of my shift. A Bible Study youth group unloaded a BBQ and started cooking in the middle of Occidental Park. I approached them and was met with a bit of hesitancy at first, but once I explained who I was, they were much more receptive. The lead gentleman informed me that they only serve once every few months, and he seemed certain they would prefer to serve in the parks than at the OMS because that’s “where the people are”. I talked to him about him about their garbage and waste, the bathroom and hand washing stations. I explained that OSL could accommodate them in our kitchen, help provide meal ingredients, and provide security, if they would consider moving into the OMS. He took our flyer, and said he would take it to their leadership.
My objective for that moment was met, but not as expected. These weren’t the providers that were expected to show, but they were meal providers.
OSL is a multi-faceted organization. We fulfill our mission in variety of ways, through meals, through collaboration, through education, and through opportunities of service. We often don’t know, day to day, or year to year, how we can best serve our community. In the end we know, that in whatever form it takes, we are only serving love.