Citing increased police calls to the area and perceived programming failures, Orange councilmembers have ordered Mary’s Kitchen to vacate its city-owned facility this Saturday, three years before the end of its license agreement.
Supporters of the kitchen have protested the eviction, and an attorney representing Mary’s Kitchen filed a lawsuit last week arguing the eviction order was a violation of both state and federal law.
On Friday, a federal judge in Santa Ana granted the kitchen a temporary restraining preventing the city from shutting it down.
The kitchen provides three meals a day, six days a week, and also has showers, mobile phone charging stations and mailboxes accessible to homeless persons in Orange. The nonprofit also reportedly provides medical care, job assistance and clothing distribution services.
Councilmembers have remained steadfast in their decision to terminate the license, however.
“We expect Mary’s Kitchen to comply with the termination and to vacate the city property no later than Saturday, Sept. 18,” a spokesperson for the council said Wednesday.
Leaders in Orange sent a letter to Mary’s Kitchen CEO Gloria Suess in June, ordering her to cease operations in 90 days and vacate the property. The letter said police calls to the immediate vicinity of the kitchen “created an unreasonable demand on city services that can no longer be sustained.”
According to The Orange County Register, calls for service to Mary’s Kitchen jumped by 80 percent from 2017 to 2018, from 193 to 374 calls. That year, city officials sent an email to Suess asking to discuss “some of the challenges we are facing at Mary’s Kitchen these days.”
In 2019, The Register reported calls for service fell by about 10 percent, to 314, and dropped once more in 2020 by more than 25 percent to 226. As of mid-July 2021, there were 171 calls to Mary’s Kitchen and the surrounding area.
The letter went on to accuse the nonprofit of “only [serving] to enable homelessness,” and failing to meet the city halfway in its efforts to combat the crisis—a “continuum of care” program that emphasizes moving persons experiencing homelessness into transitional housing.
Orange officials have also expressed concerns that the kitchen had drawn individuals from out of state. “Because it’s a place where you can get free resources and not have to abide by any rules,” Orange police spokesman Sgt. Phil McMullin told The Register.
The federal lawsuit, filed last week on behalf of Mary’s Kitchen, argued the city’s eviction order was a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and other U.S. and California laws.
The lawsuit asked a federal judge to issue an injunction against the license termination until Orange officials can provide a “full and complete alternative for the life-saving resources offered at Mary’s Kitchen” or offer an alternative location for the nonprofit.
The suit also asks for an immediate judgment ruling that the city’s early license termination violated the rights of homeless persons in Orange and that city officials have failed to meet certain requirements to provide for these communities.
The American Civil Liberties Union has joined counsel for Mary’s Kitchen in disputing the eviction order. The organization argued that the Orange City Council violated California’s open government law by discussing early termination of the license agreement during a closed session without affording proper notice to the public.
“Significant issues, especially when they affect the livelihoods of those living in Orange, must be deliberated upon in open session with the public’s input,” a letter to the council written by ACLU of Southern California legal fellow Sari Zureiqat read. “The City of Orange denied the public its right of access and likely violated the law.”
Counsel of the City of Orange has reportedly reviewed the lawsuit and “believes it to be without merit,” according to The Register.
Note: The author of this story worked as a law clerk in the ACLU's Washington Legislative Office in the summer of 2017.