Blessings Under the Bridge – the nonprofit organization providing free meals under the Interstate 90 bridge every Wednesday evening – has told the city of Spokane that it’s not moving anywhere.
Last May, the city gave Blessings 120 days to find a new location. But the order hasn’t been followed up with plans to find the homeless feeding program a new space. So Jessica Kovac, founder and CEO of Blessing, said she intends to stay.
“If we can’t serve meals in the location we are in now, then we will start serving meals on the sidewalk nearby instead,” Kovac said.
In a letter sent to the city of Spokane this week, Kovac wrote that Blessings has addressed many of the city’s concerns during the past three months, including offering to pay more to rent the space, obtaining better liability insurance and better cleaning the area, before, during and after meals.
Kovac said the attention Blessings received after the eviction notice has been overwhelmingly supportive, but some sponsors and donors worry Blessings will have to move.
“People ask all the time if we are moving and if we will continue to serve,” Kovac said. “We will continue to serve, and we are not moving.”
Businesses near McClellan Street and Fourth Avenue, where Blessings serves meals, have complained that transients camp in the area, leaving trash behind and making employees and customers feel unsafe.
Kovac said Blessings is unfairly blamed for creating that problem.
“There are many other organizations that provide services in the same area,” Kovac said. “Not all of them have as efficient a system as we do, with trucks to take things in and out. We are just there once a week.”
The city has not evicted any other nonprofits or ministries that hand out food and clothing in the same area.
Spokane has ordinances such as the sit-lie law that prohibits people from sitting or sleeping on public sidewalks, and other laws that prohibit aggressive panhandling and camping in public.
City Councilman Breean Beggs, who is one of two representatives in District 2, said the city owes it to the businesses to enforce the law.
“No one should feel unsafe in the area,” Beggs said.
He added that Blessings is not doing anything unlawful and cautioned against blaming the organization for all problems under the freeway.
“Camping is not acceptable, urinating and defecating in public is not acceptable, but it’s a 24/7 problem,” Beggs said. “It’s not something that happens just while Blessings is there.”
Beggs said if he was the decision-maker he would not evict Blessings.
“But I don’t make that decision, and I’m not sure what the city’s official position will be,” Beggs said.
Kovac estimates Blessings has served more than 100,000 people since 2007 at a cost of about $3 million. The organization provides a three-course meal – prepared off site – as well as clothing and pet food, personal hygiene items and services, like haircuts, every Wednesday evening.
Blessings does not ask for identification or proof of address.
The area beneath the freeway belongs to the Washington state Department of Transportation, but is managed by the city of Spokane.
Blessings has attracted a lot of national attention over the years, including being featured in a Lifetime Television show hosted by “Highlander” star Adrian Paul.
Kovac said she remains hopeful the issue will be settled before Sept. 1, which is the eviction date.
“I still hope we can work through it,” Kovac said.