Maslow's Army: Group working to help homeless might need new location for its outreach

Pastor: 'They're doing God's work'

UPDATE: Because of other big events on Fountain Square this weekend, Maslow's Army will hold its regular Sunday outreach at Court and Main streets Downtown from noon to 2 p.m. on May 6. The organization will be back on Fountain Square from noon to 2 p.m. on May 13. Maslow's Army hopes to have a new, long-term location figured out before May 20, said co-founders Samuel and Susan Landis.

CINCINNATI -- A nonprofit organization that serves weekly meals to people experiencing homelessness and poverty might be looking for a new home itself this summer.

Maslow’s Army has offered free pizza, drinks and fruit each Sunday for 66 consecutive weeks from a spot on or near Fountain Square.

RELATED: Once homeless, they now offer hope to others

But an April 24 email from the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. to Maslow’s Army co-founders Samuel and Susan Landis said 3CDC would be unable to approve the group’s permits this summer because of programming on the square that goes from Memorial Day until Labor Day.

“Unfortunately, now that we are into our summer programming we have events on the square and 3CDC holds the permit for our summer programming,” Andrea Saunders, 3CDC’s third party events coordinator, wrote in the email.

The Landises said May 13 is the last Sunday in the foreseeable future that Maslow’s Army has a permit to conduct its outreach at Fountain Square. They said the Cincinnati Police Department offered the group a spot on a sidewalk across from the Hamilton County Courthouse for its outreach on May 20, but police told them the location could change weekly. 

Susan Landis said she is concerned a move that far from Fountain Square could be devastating for the people who count on Maslow’s Army each week.

“It’s going to be really hard on us if negotiations don’t provide us with a permanent location,” she said. “The population that we work with, they’re a very vulnerable population. With us being on or around the square for 66 weeks, they’re used to us being there. They know there is a consistent meal on or near Fountain Square every Sunday from 12 to 2.”

Volunteers with Maslow's Army wrapped gifts that they later distributed to people experiencing homelessness during a group birthday party.

3CDC Director of Communications Joe Rudemiller replied to WCPO with a statement that said event permits for Fountain Square are granted on “a first-come, first-served basis and events may be booked no less than 14 days and no more than one year in advance.”

The statement continued: “3CDC has tried to work with Maslow’s Army by suggesting alternative dates and times for the group to gather at Fountain Square, but the group is not interested in alternative dates or times. Maslow’s Army is also not interested in taking out a permit at Washington Park during the requested dates and times, which has been offered as an alternative option.”

Rudemiller said in a subsequent email that a 3CDC executive had discussed the Washington Park alternative during a phone call but that Samuel Landis said the $250 permit fee for Washington Park was too expensive for the organization.

But Samuel Landis said it’s more complicated than that. He said it’s true that Maslow’s Army can’t afford to more than double what it pays each week for a permit. The Fountain Square permits cost the organization $100 per week. But the group was never told that the park could be a long-term solution, he said.

Maslow's Army would be fine with Washington Park as a long-term location if it were the same cost and provided enough space, he said.

“At the end of the day we really just want to be able to cooperatively work with them to come up with a solution,” Susan Landis said.

Helping the homeless

Brian Garry, a friend of the Landises and a fan of Maslow’s Army’s efforts, said he worries there could be other factors at play.

“The motivation behind it could be to be sweeping people under the carpet, so to speak," Garry said. "Out of sight, out of mind, which is how Cincinnati has traditionally treated homeless people.”

Fountain Square is the city’s living room, Garry said, and all people should be welcome there.

“People are not eyesores to be swept under the carpet,” he said. “Some people need help, and Maslow’s Army is there helping them.”

But Rudemiller said in an email that moving homeless people off Fountain Square is not a factor in 3CDC’s permitting procedures.

“3CDC has a proven track record of trying to help address the issue of homelessness,” he wrote. “We helped build three new-construction comprehensive residence and service facilities for the homeless -- City Gospel Mission, the Esther Marie Hatton Center for Women and the David & Rebecca Barron Center for Men -- at a total cost of $42 million.”

The Esther Marie Hatton Center for Women homeless shelter.

He added that “all we have been telling Maslow’s Army all along is that the group must go through the standard permitting process that every organization or individual goes through.”

Samuel Landis disputed Rudemiller’s assertion that alternate times and dates for Maslow’s Army to work on Fountain Square had been discussed.

He said Maslow’s Army has served more than 100,000 meals since it began its outreach in January 2017. The organization offers free haircuts, too, and provides people in need with new socks and underwear along with other clothing and hygiene items.

It also has distributed more than 17,000 copies of a pocket-sized Basic Needs Guide, which lists resources for food, clothing, shelters, treatment and daily and weekly jobs.

That guide lists Fountain Square as the weekly location for Maslow’s Army, and moving the group would make all of those copies incorrect, Samuel Landis said.

Still, he and his wife said Maslow’s Army would move willingly if they could get a permanent location for their efforts.

Cincinnati Police Department Capt. Mike Neville has been working with Maslow’s Army on a location for their outreach efforts. He referred questions about permitting to Cincinnati City Hall and said the issue is a matter of following the city’s rules related to permits.

Councilman Jeff Pastor

3CDC handles the permitting process at Fountain Square on behalf of the city.

Cincinnati City Councilman Jeff Pastor said he plans to talk with fellow city council members and will reach out to 3CDC to try to figure out a solution that works for everyone.

“I support Maslow’s Army. They’re doing God’s work,” Pastor said. “You want this to be a win-win situation for both. And my sense is there is a win-win as long as individuals can be flexible.”

More information about Maslow’s Army and how to donate is available online.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO. To read more stories about poverty, go to www.wcpo.com/poverty.

To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.

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