Soup kitchen a stew of trouble?

Rampant drug dealing at the Tenderloin’s largest soup kitchen has raised the ire of the district’s top cop — and his proposed solution is steaming up the leaders of the well-known nonprofit.

An impassioned letter from police Capt. Gary Jimenez to the leader of the Glide Memorial Church — a nonprofit that serves food every day to 2,200 of San Francisco’s poorest residents — says the church is “doing a very poor job of monitoring” the line of the homeless and hungry that forms for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In the letter, he has proposed that the kitchen move the queue off the street and into its parking lot, in order to “remove this very unsightly line that never seems to go away.”

But church leaders say such a move would only push the crime out of sight, and endanger their clients and workers.

The private letter exchange has generated some controversy since being posted on an Internet forum, though both parties say they respect each other’s work and are just trying to find a solution to a complex problem. Jimenez told The Examiner on Wednesday that the drug-dealing situation has hurt businesses and residents on the 300 block of Ellis Street and caused problems for the people in the line that are legitimately hungry. The Tenderloin has one of the highest crime rates in The City. As of early August, there were3,500 arrests in the district, he said.

As it stands, the queue winds down and around the block of Ellis Street. The narrow parking lot is adjacent to the kitchen building.

On a recent sunny day, the lot was nearly full of cars. Up and down the street, a few dozen people sat or slept on the sidewalk, others leaned against parking meters.

Jimenez said officers make drug arrests on the block “all the time,” but it hasn’t seemed to make a dent. He said he hopes a physical alteration could force change.

Glide minister Rev. Cecil Williams acknowledged the line can be a site of criminal behavior, but said the idea of moving it to the parking lot has been tried before without success and would just make the situation more dangerous. He said solving the problem is not as easy as just moving crime into the lot.

“Pushing people there would be like putting them in prison. We’d have a rash of who-knows-what going on there,” he said.

Founding President Janice Mirikitani said Glide has about 15 security monitors, five or six of which might be on staff in a given meal.

She said the monitors are unarmed and that it’s not their job to try to stop illegal behavior.

On Wednesday afternoon, a man who identified himself as Edward lined up to get dinner at Glide. He said he often sees drug dealers on the street and described them as “vultures” that prey on addicts.

A security monitor who also declined to identify himself said that if police want less drugs on the site, the answer is to have more police presence.

Jimenez said he’s just trying to find new solutions to problems that don’t seem to be going away.

“We’ve got to find a better system than what we have there,” he said.

kworth@sfexaminer.com

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