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A man sits along the sidewalk across the street from Brother Benno’s in 2018. Brother Benno’s provides hot meals, clothing, laundry, hygiene, a recovery program and other services to the city’s homeless population. Photo by Samantha Nelson
A man sits along the sidewalk across the street from Brother Benno’s in 2018. Brother Benno’s provides hot meals, clothing, laundry, hygiene, a recovery program and other services to the city’s homeless population. Photo by Samantha Nelson
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Brother Benno’s soup kitchen safe for now, but future uncertain

OCEANSIDE — Brother Benno’s soup kitchen will continue to provide sack lunches and hygiene packs to homeless residents for now, but that could change if there are no improvements to reported after-hour criminal activity at Oceanside Industrial Park.

Brother Benno’s is a nonprofit organization that provides various services to homeless individuals, including clothing, mail service, mobile showers and meals. Since first receiving its permit in 1991, the organization has operated out of its current facility at 3620 Production Avenue.

Over the past two decades, a growing number of complaints from neighboring businesses regarding the behavior of some of the soup kitchen’s clientele after service hours has prompted revisions to the soup kitchen’s conditional use permit.

Despite the most recent changes made in 2021, some owners are still reporting cases of individuals urinating and defecating in front of businesses and sidewalks, harassing customers and employees, vandalism and loitering around the park.

Businesses in the park started a petition earlier this year to revoke Brother Benno’s conditional use permit.

In May, the Oceanside Planning Commission heard from police, business owners and Brother Benno’s representatives regarding the ongoing issues.

According to the police department, although many of the changes that the 2021 revised conditional use permit demanded were implemented on paper, like earlier cutoff of services, some of those changes weren’t being practiced until over a year later.

Police provided more recommendations, including monthly meetings between Brother Benno’s staff, police, city staff and industrial park managers; requiring Brother Benno’s to contract with a third-party security company to provide patrol of the neighborhood and hiring a sanitation worker to be on-site; and requiring Brother Benno’s to have a 24-hour contact phone number for business owners.

Commissioners had mixed thoughts about revoking the conditional use permit and potentially forcing Brother Benno’s to move, which is what most of the business park wants to happen. Still, the commission agreed more action is necessary.

Originally the plan was for staff to return to the Planning Commission at the beginning of July with an analysis of Brother Benno’s current conditions and potential revisions to the conditional use permit. However, the topic returned for discussion during the June 26 meeting.

In addition to other changes, the police also suggested eliminating the sack lunch program and ensuring the hygiene pack program ends at 10:45 a.m. in exchange for an in-house meal program that would serve food on site.

Police Chief Kedrick Sadler explained that problematic individuals, banned from receiving Brother Benno’s services, have been collecting sack lunches from clients who are still allowed on-site.

“I don’t want to leave this meeting tonight with the false narrative that OPD is somehow against the homeless and we don’t want people to eat food – that’s nuts,” Sadler said. “We understand there are people in unfortunate circumstances experiencing hard times, and everybody needs to eat, and everybody has the right and should be able to eat, but we just didn’t want folks who were banned to benefit.”

Dozens of Brother Benno’s volunteers and supporters showed up to defend the soup kitchen, and many were upset at the possibility of Brother Benno’s losing its sack lunch privileges.

“I’m disturbed by the round of additional suggestions that Brother Benno’s has been asked to abide by, especially removing the sack lunches and hygiene packs,” said Gregg Prather, Brother Benno’s board member. “That is especially egregious, that is shameful.”

Meanwhile, business representatives continued to suggest it was time for Brother Benno’s to relocate.

“The point of a conditional use permit is to see if both sides can exist together,” said Andrea Contreras, a land use attorney representing three property owners in the industrial park. “We believe it needs to come back to the Planning Commission on whether or not to amend or revoke the permit.”

According to the soup kitchen’s leaders, most of its clients are not causing problems. Instead, it’s a group of approximately 10 individuals, all of whom were banned from receiving services, causing issues for the business park.

Police and park tenants have also noted improvements have quelled issues during the day, but criminal activity returns once the soup kitchen closes. 

“The problem is at night,” said Planning Commission Vice Chair Tom Morrissey. “I think security needs to be 24-7.”

Morrissey noted that 24-7 security services shouldn’t be only up to Brother Benno’s but instead maybe a tag-team effort between the business park, soup kitchen and the city.

Commissioner Louise Balma suggested providing after-hour access to toilets, water sources and charging stations could alleviate the public defecation and vandalism of water and electrical utilities in the area.

Sadler said stronger enforcement of the conditional use permit is also necessary.

For now, the plan is to hold collaborative meetings between Brother Benno’s staff, business park managers, police and city staff to address issues within the park for the next 60 days. After that, the Planning Commission will review what has changed at an undetermined date.

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