Marian House assailed 

Downtown group calls soup kitchen policies enabling

Since it was announced last November, the proposed expansion of the Marian House soup kitchen has spawned the wrath of the surrounding Boulder Crescent community.

Residents Ana Zook and Lili Mueh formed a neighborhood association to oppose it. Their fledgling organization, the Boulder Crescent Neighborhood, gained an ally last week when the Downtown Partnership, an association of downtown businesses, announced it would also oppose Marian House's expansion.

In a two-page letter to city planner Steve Tuck, Downtown Partnership president Jim Kin said he believed the kitchen's policy of feeding all comers, no questions asked, "enabled" addicted individuals to continue their behavior.

Downtown Partnership executive director Beth Kosley noted that many of Marian House's clientele are addicted to drugs and alcohol.

"The theory that's been played out nationwide for over a decade is that free food without strings attached enables that behavior," Kosley said.

Downtown Partnership would like the soup kitchen to require people who eat there to provide proof of need as a precondition to receive meals, as well as mandatory case management.

In its letter, the organization claimed Marian House's current location has had a negative impact on downtown's "economic base." The letter said the Partnership could use its resources in real estate and urban planning to assist Catholic Charities in finding "a more appropriate setting."

Opened in the early seventies, Marian House has been at its current location, on Bijou Street and Cascade Avenue, since the mid-1980s and has been run by Catholic Charities of Colorado Springs since 1995.

The kitchen was originally built to feed 25 nuns, and currently serves 450 meals a day mostly to homeless people and the working poor. The soup kitchen rejects people who are either violent or drunk, however its no-questions-asked policy does not require clients to submit to any tests or background checks.

Javan Ridge, Catholic Charities' chief operating officer, maintains that the soup kitchen is being remodeled, not expanded. In response to the Downtown Partnership's letter, Ridge said the group has made some valid points, but he believes that the plans will allow his organization to help more people rather than "enable" them.

Ridge said his organization has looked into seven other potential locations for the soup kitchen over the last 10 years, but all were stymied for various reasons.

The city, meanwhile, has hired professional mediator Steve Charbonneau to work with Catholic Charities, local residents and service providers for the homeless to reach a workable compromise.

Despite the Downtown Partnership's opposition, it will continue to participate in the mediation process.

Ridge said he welcomes the Downtown Partnership's participation. "We're very willing to work with them," Ridge said. "Our interest is purely in the clients."

-- John Dicker


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