Health

Orange County homeless want to use food stamps at restaurants

Kim Sandoval, 46, uses a small burner to boil water and cook small meals, mostly coffee and Ramen Noodle soup. Orange County homeless people and activists want the county to enroll in a federal program that allows homeless people on foods stamps to use them at restaurants.
Kim Sandoval, 46, uses a small burner to boil water and cook small meals, mostly coffee and Ramen Noodle soup. Orange County homeless people and activists want the county to enroll in a federal program that allows homeless people on foods stamps to use them at restaurants.
Erika Aguilar/KPCC

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Some homeless people in Orange County are asking officials to change the rules to allow them to use food stamps at restaurants. 

At the moment, CalFresh recipients in Orange County can use their EBT cards to buy food at places such as grocery stores. Food stamps can also be used to purchase seeds and plants to grow food. But some homeless and homeless advocates want officials to enroll in the Restaurant Meals Program, a voluntary federal program that allows elderly, disabled, and homeless to use their benefits at restaurants. 

The problem, said Kim Sandoval, 46, is it's hard to keep fresh food clean and safe while living on the streets.

“We have no place to store it,” Sandoval said. 

She keeps her groceries in a box inside her camp at the Orange County Civic Center. The box has Ramen Noodles, bags of chips, and some canned food.

Fresh food, she said, would spoil too quickly with no refrigerator or way to keep bugs and animals out.

“Meats, I don’t buy because I can’t cook them all in one day … eggs, chorizo, milk, stuff like that,” she said.

In Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco, homeless can eat such foods at restaurants through the restaurants program. Orange County social services officials in 2014 had begun the research into making the change, but it never happened.

“I still think this program makes sense,” said Massimo Marini, a member of the Civic Center Round Table.

Marini thinks fast food restaurants and franchises would be interested. Those are the eateries that participate in Los Angeles County.

“Homeless people are going to come in and use your bathrooms anyway,” he said. “You might as well give them a way to buy coffee.”

Orange County staff estimated more than 6,400 restaurant owners in the county in 2014. They would be required to buy and pay fees for the EBT card readers, according to a staff report from two years ago.

A spokesperson for Orange County social services said the department intends to talk about possibly implementing the Restaurant Meals Program with the new “homeless czar” the county hired last month.