OCEANSIDE — A committee formed by the Planning Commission at its most recent meeting will look into whether or Brother Benno’s, a nonprofit that helps the homeless, is complying with city conditions.
On July 22, Planning Commission took staff recommendations and selected three of its commissioners to sit on the Brother Benno’s Standing Committee, which will meet periodically to review the organization’s compliance with its conditional use permit (CUP).
Chairman Kyle Krahel and Commissioners Louise Balma and Tom Rosales were selected for the committee.
“Tonight all we’re doing is approving a standing committee of the Planning Commission to look into the CUP of Brother Benno’s,” Krahel told a room of at least 150 people at the Country Club Senior Center, where the meeting was held.
The agenda item attracted city and area residents, most of whom either held signs that read, “I support Brother Benno’s!” or wore orange shirts and held signs that read, “SAFE OSIDE.”
Despite Krahel’s statement that commissioners were not deciding on the fate of Brother Benno’s or even reviewing its CUP yet, numerous people gave testimony as to why they think Brother Benno’s should either remain in operation or why a committee should review — and potentially revoke — its CUP.
Crystal and Tim Armbruster, who live nearby Brother Benno’s, want the organization’s CUP to be reviewed after they said a homeless man who listed the organization as his address attacked their 13-year-old son in early July.
“It’s absolutely clear although Brother Benno’s does provide good services to good families who are struggling, it is also negligent and irresponsible and supporting a dangerous, criminal, drug addict community in the San Luis Rey River bed and different parts surrounding its property,” Tim Armbruster said.
Like many others at the meeting, the Armbrusters both wore SAFE OSIDE shirts. SAFE OSIDE is a group of residents and business owners in Oceanside whose goal is to improve public safety.
Brother Benno’s first began as a soup kitchen in downtown Oceanside in 1983 before it moved to its services to 3260 Production Ave. in 1991. The city approved the CUP for the organization’s current location in 1990.
Between 1992 and 1993, the Planning Commission conducted four reviews of Brother Benno’s CUP after receiving a growing number of complaints from neighbors regarding the organization’s visitors.
In 1993, the CUP was amended to establish hours of operation, to mandate security be provided during those hours, to establish rules of conduct for guests and to form a standing committee that would review Brother Benno’s compliance with conditions. No further standing committee meetings were conducted.
Today, Brother Benno’s offers not only food services to low-income and homeless people but also clothing, showers, laundry, drug rehabilitation, transportation, mail and telephone services, identification replacement, rent and utility assistance and prescription assistance with the exception of narcotic pain medication or psychotropic drugs. The organization also offers scholarship opportunities, education and delivers more than 150 food boxes each month to military personnel on Camp Pendleton.
According to Senior Planner Scott Nightingale, the number of complaints about Brother Benno’s has “significantly increased” between 2015 and today, mostly from surrounding business owners.
Nightingale also noted in his presentation that city staff has met with Brother Benno’s management “several times” to address complaints related to loitering, destruction of surrounding property and security issues “with little or no resolution.”
Because little had changed, forming a standing committee to review its CUP was the next step. An official date for the committee’s first meeting has yet to be determined.
Tim Armbruster expects “aggressive enforcement” and for Brother Benno’s to fully comply with the CUP within six months. If that can’t be achieved, he wants the CUP to be revoked.
Frank Doherty, one of Brother Benno’s operating managers, said the organization works with the Oceanside Police’s Homeless Outreach Team (HOT), outside social workers, family and staff members to address issues relating to some of its guests.
“You can’t take a broad brush approach to serving the homeless,” Doherty said.
He added that the organization has a list of “troublesome” people who are “disallowed” at the facility.
“The vast majority of people we serve are people in need with very few places to turn,” Doherty said.
According to Doherty, Brother Benno’s estimates that its drug rehabilitation and utility assistance services help keep 200 people of the street each year.
Photo Caption: More than 150 people attended Oceanside Planning Commission’s July 22 meeting, during which commissioners appointed three members to a standing committee that will review the non-profit’s conditional use permit. Photo by Samantha Taylor
Samantha Nelson covers Oceanside, Camp Pendleton and the decommissioning San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. She earned her journalism degree from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, and has previously reported for The Athens Messenger in Athens, Ohio, and USA Today in McLean, Virginia. Follow her on Twitter: @samm1son