Confusion over food vouchers for homeless during papal visit

Andre Watkins believes the pope would want to see the homeless and the work of nonprofit groups. ( CHARLES FOX / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER )

There was some confusion Friday over the promised food vouchers that the city plans on distributing to homeless people whose routines have been disrupted by the Pope's visit.

The city originally said vouchers that could be used at Parkway food vendors would be available Friday, Saturday and Sunday. However Marcella Maguire, director of homeless behavioral services with the city Department of Behavioral Health, said it turned out no vendors were operating Friday.

This led to some concern by advocates, including Brian C. Jenkins, executive director of Chosen 300 Ministries, who emailed shortly after 6 p.m. saying: "Please … ask where homeless can get vouchers city said they had. No one knows."

Maguire said the city was able to obtain food Friday that was available for medical and other staff that was distributed to various shelters. She said Saturday and Sunday the vouchers will be available near the Parkway from 24 City outreach workers dressed in yellow shirts identifying them as such.

She said people who had returned to the secure zone Friday after a Secret Service sweep would not be told to leave. Outreach workers from the city and elsewhere would still urge people to seek shelter.

Jenkins said last night the city's voucher plan was disappointing and inadequate. "How can we be expected to find 24 people in a crowd of 1.5 million? They've had 18 months to plan."

He said he believed the city only had about 30-50 vouchers and that the need would be closer to 500. His group was making arrangements to bring in their own food, if allowed, for a 5 p.m. dinner.