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Indybay Feature

Wednesday Night Dinner at the Elm Street Mission in Santa Cruz

by ~Bradley (bradley [at]
The Elm Street Mission, "a non-profit church that works with homeless men and women to show them the love of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit," is located in downtown Santa Cruz next to a record shop, art gallery, café, spa, metro center, night club and some housing. On the Elm Street Mission blog, Pastor Ben Palm writes that the church provides between 4,000 and 5,000 meals each month, and in an August 2006 interview with Laura Mattingly, he said approximately 75% of the recipients are homeless.

Dinners are served starting at 6pm every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Cooked meals and clothing are provided to people in exchange for the little green ticket they receive after roughly 45 minutes of Christian evangelism and indoctrination. As a Church, the Elm Street Mission believes they are helping to enable homeless people to kick drugs and alcohol and all other addictions. Pastor Ben Palm proudly states, "We feed, clothe, and pray with them, as well as show them the power in the word of God. Many lives have been changed in the last 37 years and many more will be changed in the future."
The Elm Street Mission is located on Elm Street between Pacific Avenue and Cedar Street in downtown Santa Cruz, and just a block away from the Wednesday drum circle and Santa Cruz Farmers Market. All of these photos were taken on Wednesday, January 30th. This is the same day that a Santa Cruz police officer was caught covertly filming the weekly drum circle and Food Not Bombs; the sharing of free vegetarian food in protest of war and poverty.
by ~Bradley
by ~Bradley
§Boy Scout
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§Prayer Circle
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§Line for Food
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§Food Service
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§Dining Hall
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§Coat Closet
by ~Bradley
Clothing is kept in this closet and giving to those in need of such items.
by ~Bradley
Yvonne collects meal tickets which are given to people following a service.
by ~Bradley
Marshall's plate
by ~Bradley
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Comments (Hide Comments)
by Rico
I appreciate that you went and took photos here. A lot. I new about the Elm Street Mission, but hadn't been there. Your luscious photos make me want to go and hang out and get to know folks.
by Tim Rumford (sleepisaright [at]
i am glad you wrote this. we may disagree, its hard to tell from your post. but I enjoy your posts.
In my eyes Elm St. mission is very unfair in the manner in which they serve the poor. Here are my reasons which I am sure will bring some dissent. I hope we can keep it civil.

If your a Christian and want to hear a sermon you get a huge meal. Great for you if that fits your world view. If you don't attend the sermon, you get fed outside, and get a pittance of what you would if you went in listened to the sermon. Maybe that has changed with the new 15 panic law, since the outside crowd would be forced to eat in the parking lot or in the outlying gutters. Usually it was tomato soup and fake juice or punch. But as the post refers to the green tickets, I doubt much has changed.

I had a friend named Eric. He was hooked on heroin, was homeless and very recently lost his leg and was having difficulty dealing with it. He came here. He went to Elm St because he was HUNGRY and new in town. Pastor Ben immediately glommed on to Eric seeing a soul he thought he could "Indoctrinate". He ended up talking Eric into and through a semi coerced conversion that only added to his Eric's guilt , and was largely demoralizing, as he did not believe in what he was being led through. Eric was not a Christian of that type. When he brought up his concerns the next day, as he felt guilty, but was more in psychological pain, and wanted to explain HIS TRUTH that he was not converted. He was immediately cut off from all services, banned from Elm St. mission. How Christian of them.

Eric, who was a very kind and peaceful man, came to the Monday meal we served then. After eating one meal he wanted to help. He started volunteering and even brought in two more volunteers. This helped him gain a sense of pride and self without a forced conversion.

Eric decided he wanted off the streets and get off the drugs. He did it under the bridge cold turkey. I brought him food, blankets, books and anything to keep him busy through his horrible three days of hell. But he did it, and then went home to his family that supported him without any help from the city, and certainly not Elm St. Mission. All Eric needed was a friend and to be treated with some dignity. He had good family. He simply took a wrong turn in life. Being converted at a vulnerable time in your life, and pledging your heart and soul to Christ is not the best time to make such a devoted extreme decision in one night let alone one hour. However it is the easiest path for a Pastor to take a person in this mind state and convert them. This is far from right. anyone changing religions should take more than one night to decide and not based on being desperate and hungry. this does not make it right. It only makes it easier for the pastor whose goal is not feed the hungry , but to gather souls for conversion.

There are a hundred other stories. I not against them feeding, but don't make people listen to a sermon to eat. Let them choose for themselves. Don't give more to others than some, because you feel their relationship to Christ is better than another's. A Church that serves food should cater to all, whatever religion equally, simply because its the right thing to do.

How would a hungry Jewish, Muslim or Hindu feel going to Elm St? I have spoken to a few and they were not all treated well.

Is this food only for those willing to convert? Is this fair? Is this even moral? Eric didn't think so? They could have easily helped Eric. They had the resources and only failed due to their fundamentalism. Eric simply needed a friend and someone to treat him with dignity. During the nine moths I fed every Monday in front of new leaf many came who were kicked out, or were non believers and had an issue with Elm St. and we fed all of them unconditionally.

Then there are the rats, but that is another story for another time.

Tim Rumford

by formerly houseless
What about St. Francis Soup Kitchen, off River Street? I don't know if they still do serve, but when I needed free meals, I went there for lunch every weekday, at noon. They had pretty good food, and they usually had something vegetarian. Also, they did not force you to listen to a sermon.
by Tim Rumford
I agree, The Saint Francis is fair. and very accommodating to the people it serves. I have had several great conversations with the people there. Thanks for pointing that out.
Tim Rumford
by Damaris
hey Bradley i just saw these up on the computer. These are beautiful pictures! I also enjoyed the article.
by ben palm
Tim sorry you feel the way you do. Eric I remember him well and I never converted him nor did he ever say he wanted to come to Christ. He also never came into Elm Street Mission while in a wheel chair that I recall. I talked to him across the street and on the sidewalk as he panhandled. I prayed with him many times and encouraged him to read the Bible and pray asking Jesus for help to get off of drugs. I am glad that he is doing good and want the best for all those suffering with bondage of any kind especially sin which is the root of the drug, alcohol problem. God bless Ben
by ben palm
May 28th will be the last meal on Wednesday. The board of Elm St. and I has a new direction as to where God is leading. Santa Cruz Bible is and always has been extremely diligent and helpful. Elm Street Mission thanks them for the hard work over the last three years. God bless Ben
by rather not say
i have to say that i agree with tim on this one, elm st forces homeless people to sit through sermons in order to receive food. Jesus would not do that. i have seen elm st staff cussing at people, jesus would not do that. i have seen a man with a medical condition threatened with dismissal for passing out in the unbearably hot chapel. I have seen a man who appeared to be suffering a drug overdose dragged off the front steps and down the street by his arm, he could have been injured. another man was threatened with a tazer while sitting on the curb across the street and praying.,,,,, the man threatened ..........apparently had made a comment about the staff person's aggressive mannerisms. i am hungry and in need of food, but i am in complete disagreement about the way people are treated at elm st. pastor dennis adams serves at the clock tower on sundays, they have worship, and a good meal, and the staff is always willing to pray for you. also on thursdays and sundays is santa cruz revival feeding right on pacific avenue, they are kind folks. saint francis feeds daily, and they are never rude to homeless people. even the secular river street shelter seems to be more loving. the hare krishnas seem to be nice folks as well, and they will always give you a meal.
by Used To Be Homeless
It is truly sad when people feel the need to impose their ideas upon some people who simply want to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Mission is not obligated to do anything except preach the Gospel. When I read the Bible I find that the first and foremost thing done by Jesus was to tell people about the Kingdom of God. When I read the Bible Jesus feeds people as an afterthought. Those people He fed did not come to Him for food and socks. They came to hear Him preach. The only hunger they had was for His words. I was homeless and know many of the people in the streets...from the truly hurting people who have been dealt a low blow from the system they worked hard to support to the "professional" homeless people who, sad to say but the truth hurts sometimes, want nothing more than to use and abuse the kindness of others. The people at the Mission are Christians. I always found them to be upright, honest, and, though flawed as all humans are, sincere in their pursuit of the ability to live a life as close to that of Jesus as they possibly can. Yes, they have erred in judgment, but who hasn't? They preach the Gospel there. Then they feed. If people don't think that is the right thing to do, then don't go there. In the name of Christ, I have seen the staff there yelled at, sworn at, spat upon, and attacked physically...all because they adhere to a set of standards, as is their right. I saw a fellow once get a sleeping bag after begging and lying for it (I happen to know he already had 2 bags at his camp) and go out of the Mission and trade the bag for drugs. The fellow Tim is talking about...the heroin addict...chose a lifestyle and then wanted to heal himself his own way. Whee does the Mission's responsibility come in? I fail to see that. Just like many of the homeless I have ever met, it's always someone else's fault. They want the world to do what they want when they want... it is sad
by Per Jesus
Whenever "outreach" to the "homeless" - which are often represented by the disabled, the elderly, the veteran - and even, the mentally ill - we have to wonder, as a society, what a mission like this cultivates when people are brainwashed that they aren't worthy for the kingdom of heaven, are born of sin and shame, and seperated from God. 

Further, they perpetuate the pattern of homelessness for many by expecting all to endure the stigma of a few - those being championed as "God's loving examples" who happen to be the ones that are the ex cons, drug addicts, alcoholics, sex offenders, as somehow redeemed by the LORD while decent people, in need, are neglected and ignored !

And it's all relatively polite! Lots of happy songs and gooey sentimentality. Many, "Jesus loves you" .. are typically heard .. you know, the one they say is the only savior, (who happened to die from brutal unconscionable persecution) - lest we ever forget and not do our chores.

The Palms are a very good looking family in a superfreakish kinda way. Especially the guys, and they know it. So they have hang ups and individule complexes, it's said, since theIr mission is right around the corner from a gay bar.  Much temptation for these looker pretty boys. Its enough to give Tony Curtis or Scott Petersen a run for their outlook. Seriously.

They are also uppity and neurotic with a Shepard's Fold oppressive upbringing and typically don't want to get confused with logic (especially when applied to the bible, ethics or personal responsibility). 

They have been observed to benefit certain satisfaction upon witnessing other people's detriment - and it's perceived they get some kind of enjoyment in powertripping over the needy.. while championing the falacy to "work for nothing" and that "volunteering" is somehow good for the character and soul. This franchise amounts to a scam with an EXTREMELY depressing track record of success stories.

A community of volunteers or a society of workers?  The maturity isn't there, nor is the integrity.. and a few well meaning folks oftentimes go through a process of dejection in what amounts to "Jesus Hater" antics and methodology.

Household pets eat better than what has been seen delivered at the Elm Street Mission, frankly. The menu is enough to decrease anyones' will to live altogether. 

And, the tax returns garnered from this religious outfit would make your head spin - so there's really no reason anyone should go without anything. A person can get upwards over $2 for every $1 donated to this non profit tax exempt religious franchise.

Ultimately, they're just ridiculing people over there in need .. at that nightmare of a place they call a mission on Elm Street. 
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