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City says no more free breakfasts for homeless at Veterans Park

New Hampshire Union Leader

May 17. 2013 1:40AM

MANCHESTER — City officials have told a church group that it will no longer be allowed use Veterans Park to serve a free hot breakfast to the homeless.

The decision has left Do you know Him? Ministries without an outdoor location in the downtown area to serve the breakfast.

The group had been using Veterans Park each weekend since January 2012 until December when, due to the cold, it took the operation indoors at the Salvation Army.

When it sought to again serve the breakfast at the park, the group was told by the Parks Department that its permit would not be renewed.

“There was some concern from area businesses who didn’t feel like it was the best fit, using park space to feed people,” Chief of Parks Peter Capano said. “We sat down to try and find another location to do the ministry and had a rough time of it.”

Bill Sullivan, the president of Do you know Him? Ministries said Veterans Park was ideal because of its central location downtown and easy walking distance from the New Horizons for New Hampshire shelter. Other ideas proposed by the city, such as Arms Park near the Millyard, were too far away or in residential areas, he said.

Sullivan said residential areas near downtown posed a couple of problems. “We set up at 6 a.m. We get as much as 300 people. Plus, there’s a lot of low-income people in those neighborhoods near downtown. There are a lot of people in Manchester who could use a free breakfast, but that’s not who it’s intended for,” he said.

The breakfast consists of scrambled eggs, sausage and pancakes or french toast, plus a banana and a bottle of water.

The group continues to serve at the Salvation Army, but a proposal to use the parking lot there is also problematic due to its location, Sullivan said.

Sullivan said he’s met with Mayor Ted Gatsas and the parks chief about the issue.

Sullivan said he provides the breakfast service to offer the homeless both physical and spiritual nourishment.

“During the week, they can go to the Manchester Homeless Services Center,” he said. “A lot of them don’t have access to food on the weekends. The people live outside, they live in their cars, they may be couch surfing.”

Before the meal is served, Sullivan offers a 10-minute “nondenominational message.”

“It’s a message of hope. We’re trying to show them God that loves them and cares about them, that they’re as important as anyone else,” he said.

Sullivan said that “no one has to listen,” and that many come after the sermon is delivered.

Charlie Sherman, the executive director of the New Horizons shelter and kitchen, said he explored the possibility of accommodating the program at the facility, but he said its faith-based nature posed a problem.

“Unfortunately, because we get federal funding, we’re not allowed to have any type of faith-based ministry,” he said, adding, “They really do a wonderful thing for the community in providing a fabulous breakfast on the weekends.”

Sullivan said other religious organizations have been granted permits to use city parks, pointing to a Wiccan festival held last year.

“We’re exercising our First Amendment rights in a public setting,” he said.

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