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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Police Force Soup Kitchen to Move

In an apparent effort to remove the homeless from public sight, police have once again ordered a soup kitchen run by volunteers to shut down.

It is the second time the Center for Humanitarian Aid has been forced to move its food program since June. This time, though, it may get some help from city officials, who say the police may have been "over- zealous."

The center, founded by Ethiopian Namrud Negash, distributes hot food to up to 200 poor and homeless people a day at the back of the Russian Orthodox St. Peter and Paul Church near Komsomolskaya Ploshchad. The food program is run by volunteers, who areRussians and foreigners.

Three officers from the local 7th police precinct showed up at the site on Tuesday and ordered the volunteers to stop the food program, saying they didn't have proper permission.

"As far as we know we had everything we need," said Julie MacDonald, a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer who is the center's financial director. "It's not illegal to feed people at your own territory."

She said the demand for special permission appeared to be only a pretext. "Somebody put pressure on the police."

The center believes the police may have been responding to complaints from businesses located in a large office building across the street.

Mikhail, a guard at the building who wouldn't give his last name, said he didn't mind the homeless but he could see the businesses' point.

"They would come to work in their Mercedes and there would be bums sitting all over the doorsteps eating kasha from their paper plates," he said. "But what can you do. Such is our life."

Anatoly Trekalov, who heads the 7th police precinct, was unavailable for comment Friday.

But a city official in the central district administration, Alexender Treinis, said the soup kitchen was closed purely on police initiative. He implied it may have been a mistake.

"Our [police] organs are overly zealous sometimes," Treinis said. "We don't have any objections to this kind of activities. If they [the soup kitchen] continue having trouble, they should write us a letter and we'll give them a hand."

After the police order, the volunteers moved the food distribution point away from the office building and into a deserted driveway between the church and an empty kindergarten. The food now comes in packages and the homeless are asked to take it somewhere else to eat.

The soup kitchen was first forced to move from its location at the nearby Kazan Station in June as part of a major citywide effort to clean up the capital ahead of the World Youth Games.

A month later, the food program was resumed at the church on Novaya Basmannaya Ulitsa.

Negash said he wrote a letter to Mayor Yury Luzhkov and the State Property Committee requesting to use the abandoned kindergarten next to the church to open a one-night shelter for the homeless and a canteen. There has been no reply, he said.