After countless email exchanges, threats of arrest, harassment from law enforcement, numerous City Council meetings and negotiations with Parks and Open Space, the homeless outreach group Breakfast Brigade has finally got the permit it needed to feed the hungry in Washington Jefferson Park.
“I was surprised,” Breakfast Brigade volunteer Lisa Levsen says, “We have been fighting the system for so long and negotiating, only for them to just give us the permit we needed all along.”
The people of the Breakfast Brigade have been serving the homeless population at Washington Jefferson Park Wednesday through Saturday mornings for nearly 10 years with few issues from the city — until its permit expired 10 months ago. For the last 10 months the homeless outreach group has been trying to renew its permit, but was told that the city isn’t issuing permits at all, with little explanation.
Kelly Shadwick, the outreach manager for Eugene Parks and Open Spaces, says there were “a lot of things going on at the park at the time,” including a new dog park and reconstruction after the city sanctioned homeless camp at the park was shut down.
Efforts to obtain a permit grew exponentially after Eugene police threatened to arrest Breakfast Brigade volunteers on June 29 if they kept serving food at the park. Frustrated by the police’s response, and by Neighborhood Service Officers who tried to ticket Breakfast Brigade’s van, Levsen alerted the media and continued to press the parks department about getting a permit.
While Shadwick was out of town, the Breakfast Brigade spoke at a Eugene City Council meeting advocating for a permit and continued to serve the homeless community at its usual time and place. Two weeks after Shadwick’s return to the office, Parks and Open Space scheduled a meeting with Breakfast Brigade that would determine whether the Brigade would receive a permit.
On August 15, Shadwick and members of the Breakfast Brigade, along with two of its lawyers, met to find a solution. To Levsen’s surprise, the city, with few questions or concerns, offered them a permit to serve in the park two blocks south from where they previously served to a place under the overpass at 5th and Washington.
Levsen says she feels grateful that the city is finally willing to give them the permit they need, but still wonders why there needed to be such an “agonizing” journey to get there. “We didn’t get to this moment in isolation,” Levsen says. “Pretending like everything is fine is hard. I’ve got new gray hairs and body aches from all this.”
The permit was issued on August 20 and will give them the right to feed the homeless in the park until next year. After the first year, Shadwick says, the city will “re-evaluate.” Shadwick says that other homeless outreach groups are welcome to apply for a permit but will be looked at on a “case by case basis.”
As exhausting as this process was for Levsen, she hopes that this can be a turning point for the city and Breakfast Brigade’s relationship. She said, “We want to have good faith with the city and they should too.”