A hearing on a motion for a restraining order to prevent Orange from closing down homeless services company Mary’s Kitchen is slated for September 30th in a federal courtroom in Santa Ana.
US District Judge David O. Carter approved a restraining order on Friday, stating that Mary’s Kitchen is the “only adult homeless service provider without minors” in Orange and has been in the city for nearly 36 years, starting in 1986.
Mary’s Kitchen’s agreement with the city to use the property began in 1993 and has been renewed several times over the years, Carter said in his ruling.
“The number of guests served has increased from about 65 per day in 2004 to about 200 per day in 2019,” wrote Carter. “The city has celebrated the work of Mary’s Kitchen on its website, as has County Orange in reports submitted to the US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development for federal funding. ”
The city extended its license agreement with Mary’s Kitchen for another five years in June 2019. Carter said the extension came because officials concluded the nonprofit was “well organized and efficiently run”.
Carter said the city officials also noted in the license renewal that the Mary’s Kitchen volunteers were “very dedicated” and that the facility is “impressively neat and clean.”
According to Carter, the guests “mostly behaved and behaved properly”.
At the time, city officials found that the loitering was still a challenge, but Mary’s Kitchen officials worked closely with the police and surveillance cameras were installed.
The COVID-19 pandemic has closed much of the facility’s interior and reduced grocery, mail pickup, and bathroom use services, Carter said.
“During this time the city had record homeless death rates,” he wrote.
The city sent a notice of a breach of the agreement with Mary’s Kitchen in September 2020. The notice alleged violations such as “placement on private property, traffic jams, damage to city property, trespassing, and drug and alcohol consumption”.
The notice also alleged lounging all night and officials called for private security to be hired.
Mary’s Kitchen reopened in December at the height of the winter surge in the coronavirus pandemic, which was overloading hospitals and fueling the death toll.
A private security company was hired at the time, and from January through June, 80 arrests were made near Mary’s Kitchen for violations such as alcohol abuse, trespassing, drug possession, and pending warrants, according to Carter.
Mary’s Kitchen officials asked the city in April to expand their services to include a “navigation center” that would help find permanent shelter for local transients, Carter said. The city did not respond and instead the city administrator canceled the lease on June 18.
City officials said at the time that Mary’s Kitchen “only serves to make homelessness possible and the city can no longer support it.”
An approved affordable housing project next door made Mary’s Kitchen “incompatible,” the city said.
Mary’s Kitchen should be out of the room by Saturday.
Carter ruled the city withheld due process for Mary’s Kitchen. He also noted that over the years, Mary’s Kitchen “has invested significant resources in its current location over several decades, including physical infrastructure that cannot be relocated.”
An eviction would result in Mary’s Kitchen losing its location and “tens of thousands of dollars in infrastructure investment,” Carter said.
Those passing through who rely on Mary’s Kitchen would also lose valuable services, and that: “These dangers will be exacerbated if the COVID-19 pandemic persists,” Carter said.
Carter dismissed the city’s argument that it offers similar and improved services, saying he was “not sure that these resources are currently in place and would actually make up for the damage that would be caused by closing Mary’s Kitchen”.
City officials argued that other emergency shelters in northern Orange County in nearby towns are enough to meet the need.
However, Carter said that Mary’s Kitchen customers are regularly transported from these properties to Orange in order to receive services not offered in these other properties.
The city argued that it had 160 beds with a future project to build 64 new units, but Mary’s Kitchen serves about 300 customers at its location at 517 W. Struck Ave., Carter noted.
The damage to Mary’s Kitchen from the closure would be “substantial and irreparable,” but the damage to the city would be “minor,” Carter said.
The closure “would put a further strain on already strained urban services by distributing uninhabited people across the city and county, making it more difficult to provide targeted services”.
Paul Sitkoff, a city spokesman, said Wednesday that city lawyers had “checked the file and believed it was unfounded”.
On Friday, Sitkoff said the city will “comply with the TRO and are working on an answer. This answer is still in development. “
The lawyers representing Mary’s Kitchen were the same as those involved in the Anaheim riverbed evacuation lawsuit, which resulted in a large county settlement that allowed cities to evacuate homeless camps while providing shelter for those passing through.
Services Mary’s Kitchen provides include meals, a pass-through address to have services shipped to, a place to tidy up and relieve, charging points for electronics, clothing and laundry, and doctor’s appointments.
After the city issued a notice to vacate the property, officials “first” offered services to the homeless last month, lawyers at Mary’s Kitchen said.
“This happened only once in the last month and seemed more of a hype for the media than a help for the guests at Mary’s Kitchen,” the court records read. They also said no one was available to enroll participants in the government’s shelter provision program.