Iron Gate, a Tulsa-based soup kitchen and food pantry, has been around since 1984. On their website you can find the words “we are all guests on this earth and guests treat one another with courtesy, kindness and respect.” It seems this philosophy of equality is not one that every Tulsan holds.
Currently, Iron Gate is located in the Trinity Episcopal Church basement on Cincinnati and 5th street, where it feeds up to 900 people a day. In order to actually fit all these people in one location and to feed more hungry Tulsans, the organization wanted to build a soup kitchen at 3rd and Peoria, about a mile away from the original location. This proposal was vehemently opposed by various business owners and homeowners around the area, and was ultimately denied by the Board of Adjustment. Things like this get denied every day, but what makes this issue stand out are the reasons for the opposition.
Leanne Benton, the Pearl District Association President, vocalized the worries that Peorians apparently held by saying that the soup kitchen would bring “vandalism, break-ins, trash and homeless people.” These voices weren’t just residents of gentrified neighborhoods casually complaining about the streets; they were forces that led the Board to deny the proposal altogether.
When the poor are pushed out of an area so that the better-off won’t be bothered by them, we are furthering the problems of poverty and hunger. Iron Gate fought back by saying that the soup kitchen would be large enough to house hundreds of people wanting to get food, so no poor person would be wandering around the precious Pearl District. I’ll say what they won’t: it shouldn’t matter how big the soup kitchen would be.
The shop owners voicing opposition to the kitchen seem to have no problem with taking a poor person’s money, but hold objections to being next to an organization that feeds them. Homeowners are so afraid of seeing a hungry person in their neighborhood that they forget how many of their coworkers, friends, family and even neighbors need locations like that soup kitchen. The homeless, poor and hungry are not another species you can create a separate location for. Like Iron Gate says, they are guests on earth just like any other person. Shop owners would be cheering for, say, luxury condos, to be built next to their stores because that would mean rich customers in suits and polished shoes. Once the allure of sophistication is taken away, the people walking around their streets no longer become people. They become a problem.
By saying that a soup kitchen will bring “vandalism, break-ins” and “trash”, you’re doing two ignorant things. First, you’re generalizing what kind of people are the ones who would be coming to the soup kitchen. These people are college students who might have no extra money for groceries. These people are single mothers and fathers and their children. These people are men and women who were laid off or fired and struggling to find a job. These people are the homeless who have no one else on their side.
Second, and this goes along with the generalization, we’re transforming the hungry from individual people and families to pawns. The opposers seem to think that they can deem hungry people of not being worthy of “their” area of Tulsa. The poor are not people you can just pick up and move into a square that you see fit for them to be in. They are Tulsans, and they are hungry.
If the proposed soup kitchen would’ve been approved and built, Tulsa would’ve been home to the largest food-only resource in the country. This city has the potential to feed its hungry citizens, but it will never happen if we keep divisions between the poor and the rest of society. I hope Iron Gate continues to fight to find a location in Tulsa that will bring food to hungry individuals and families. When they do, the voices of their supporters can be equally as loud as the opposition if they write in letters to the Tulsa Board of Adjustment, expressing unrest about the denial or support for the next location Iron Gate tries to move to.