Since I’m a cheapskate and take advantage of the $1 parking at Fifth Street and Detroit Avenue, I’ve walked or driven past the Iron Gate soup kitchen at Trinity Episcopal Church, 501 S. Cincinnati Ave., hundreds of times over the last two years.
But until today, I had never been inside. Iron Gate officials have announced that the soup kitchen, which serves food every morning to more than 450 people, and distributes hundreds of grocery bags each week, could potentially move about a mile east to Third Street and Peoria Avenue.
Many in that area, nicknamed The Pearl District, are unhappy about the idea of moving the soup kitchen to their neighborhood. Their voices have been heard — some of those residents spoke at a Board of Adjustment meeting on Tuesday to air their grievances.
But the people we haven’t heard from are the ones most affected by the potential move — the patrons themselves.
So on Friday morning, Kevin and I journeyed over to Iron Gate to ask the people there what they thought. The reaction was mixed.
Randy Esling sat on the curb outside the facility. The interior space at Iron Gate is by no means large, so many choose to eat quickly and then go outside for fresh air and a chance to talk to their friends.
“I believe there will be a lot of people (for whom) it will be more of a struggle for them to get there, I realize they’re trying to get the homeless people out of downtown Tulsa, and that’s understandable to a certain degree,” Esling said. “But they’re going to be here anyway.”
What Esling is referring to is something another person I spoke to (Terrance Pemberton) referenced. People don’t just come downtown for a free meal. The Department of Human Services building is downtown, as are clothing banks (like the John 3:16 Mission) and the Tulsa County Courthouse for those with tickets or court dates.
Basically, Esling said, Iron Gate is only one of several stops downtown for Tulsa’s homeless. Moving it will only give them a new stop; it won’t keep them entirely out of downtown.
The move won’t have as harsh an effect on those with transportation, Kiva Young said. Young, who has access to a vehicle, was at Iron Gate on Friday with her four-year-old daughter, Nyema Davis. Iron Gate, in response to clients’ transportation concerns, is working to develop a plan to provide bus transportation that could transport people from downtown to the new location.
Young and Esling were both, ultimately, in favor of the proposed move. Young said she lives near Third Street and Peoria Avenue and sees some of the same people there that she sees in the mornings at Iron Gate. Esling said a new, larger facility, with the capacity to not only serve more people (Iron Gate touted feeding more than 220,000 people last year,) but also to store more goods to distribute, would eventually be worth the discomfort.
The proposed new facility, if you add the interior and parking lot, will be an estimated 43,000 square feet, substantially larger than Iron Gate’s current location.
“It will be a difficult move, it will take a while for people to get acclimated to the situation, where they’re being moved to a new spot like that,” he said. “I think overall it’s a good thing, I really do. Nobody likes change, by nature we’re quick to criticize and slow to change … but I think overall it’s a good thing.”
Iron Gate will hold a public meeting on the proposed move at 6 p.m. Tuesday at its facility in Trinity Episcopal Church, 501 S. Cincinnati Ave.
On Sept. 8, the Board of Adjustment will hear Iron Gate’s application for special exceptions to the zoning code that would allow the nonprofit to build its new facility at 302. S. Peoria Ave.