The battle over whether volunteers can serve free meals to hungry Portlanders more often in city parks is over.
The city of Portland this week dropped its opposition to the activities of the group Free Hot Soup, which last fall ramped up the frequency of its meal service in downtown's Director Park to five times a week.
As WW reported, that frequency made some downtown business owners uncomfortable and they communicated that discomfort to City Hall.
The city responded with new rules that limited meal service to once a week. The Oregon Justice Resource Center then sued the city on behalf of Free Hot Soup in November.
That lawsuit has now been dismissed as the city scrapped the new rule.
A representative of Free Hot Soup celebrated the victory.
"It is sad to see a city that wraps itself in progressive politics work so hard to suppress and harm its most vulnerable," said Austin Bennington of Free Hot Soup. "When the parks department tries to unilaterally strip constitutional rights from individuals through illegal policies and intimidation, we as a city have an obligation to act. Caring and providing for those who cannot do for themself is not illegal, but an act of love."
Parks spokesman Mark Ross says the bureau never actually enforced the new rule limiting meal service to once per week. Ross says the bureau rescinded the rule in a nod to the current COVID-19 circumstances on the streets.
"Safety net services are more important than ever, and we want service providers to continue serving Portlanders in need during this emergency," Ross said in a statement. "Our parks are important community gathering spaces, and we welcome the volunteers and organizations who are serving the most vulnerable in our community. To make sure needed services are available, we have repealed the social services permit requirement, a free, low-barrier permit that was designed for providers offering social services in parks."
Mayor Ted Wheeler weighed in as well.
"I support [parks] director [Adena] Long's decision to repeal the social services permit requirement in light of COVID-19," Wheeler said in a statement. "Many Portlanders are still in need of services during the pandemic, and our parks and the Portland Parks and Recreation team play a key role in supporting the work of social service providers. After the emergency has passed, I look forward to continuing a discussion with the community and the bureau about the best ways to coordinate park use and maintain safety, cleanliness, and accessibility for all visitors."