Lawsuits Prompt Philadelphia Judge To Order Freeze On Ban Prohibiting Public Food Distribution

By @TrishaMarczakMP |
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    Update | Trisha Marczak

    Occupy activists and those who feel called to help the homeless in Philadelphia are out in public parks once again serving homeless people food, following a ban on the practice handed down by Mayor Michael Nutter.

    A Philadelphia judge placed a 120-day freeze on the ban in response to lawsuits brought on by religious organizations that challenged Nutter’s move.

    Nutter claims that the ban protects homeless people from foodborne illnesses, while also claiming that those living on the streets deserve to be offered a comfortable place indoors to be fed. Yet not everyone is convinced, with many claiming that the ban was put in force to hide the city’s homelessness issue and crack down on Occupy Philadelphia activists who pioneered the makeshift public park soup kitchens.

    (MintPress) – A ban on sleeping and serving food outdoors in Philadelphia public parks sent shockwaves throughout the community, especially among those active in efforts to feed homeless people in the city, including Occupy activists.

    Occupy Philadelphia, a branch of the Occupy Wall Street movement, had made tackling homelessness a top issue, using public parks to feed long lines of the city’s homeless. The announcement by Philadelphia Governor Michael Nutter created confusion among those who say they’re volunteering time and money to help out the city’s disenfranchised.

    The ban went into effect June 1. According to National Public Radio, law enforcement were instructed to hold off on enforcement until a lawsuit filed by religious organizations were heard by a judge. Yet it seems law municipal police are pushing forth with the ban, implementing it within the activist community.

    At a recent Occupy National Gathering in Philadelphia, activists told Mint Press they believed the ban handed down by Nutter in March was done so to break down the movement and eliminate the presence of activists helping homeless in the parks — efforts that were open for public view, particularly by tourists who travel to Philadelphia to sightsee, passing through parks along the way.

    Patricia Shore, a Philadelphia Occupy activist, said she was sad to learn of the crackdown on dispersing food in public, as it had been a passion for many, including those involved with the city’s Occupy Faith movement, a network of Quaker, Christian, Jewish, Muslim and atheist volunteers.

    Occupy activists in Philadelphia had also been known to set up feeding lines for one another, allowing homeless people to join in. Occupy Philadelphia actually has a ‘food committee,’ tasked with cooking and providing the food.

    That’s a criticism shared by others within the city, who felt the governor was trying to eliminate the presence of hardships within the city. Nutter denied such accusations, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, saying the ban on outdoor public feeding was meant to provide incentive for services to be taken indoors to provide relief for those living on the streets.

    “My motivation is not to exclude anyone,” Nutter told the Inquirer. “I want a hungry person in need to know they can get a clean, dry place.”

    Nutter went on to say that it would be the safe option, as homeless people deserve a clean, dry place.

    Nutter made the announcement March 14 — three days later, Occupy activists took to the sidewalks near government buildings to protest the move. A video posted of an event March 17 shows a man dressed as a monkey, holding a banana with a phrase written with black market along the peel: “This is not a crime.”

    Those in the background held signs against the ban, accusing the governor of giving in to requests by tourist organizations and business leaders in the community who allegedly groan upon the out-in-the-open soup kitchens.

    Nutter said he would open a temporary area near City Hall to feed people who are homeless, but that those volunteering must take city classes for certification in food safety standards. Charity groups are now operating that stand, complete with portable toilets and sanitary hand washing stations.


    Rules applied to homeless, activists

    The ban does not specifically name ‘homeless people’ as those who are banned from sleeping and receiving food distributed in public parks.

    At the Occupy National Gathering, held July 1-5 in Philadelphia, activists were banned from carrying in large jugs of iced tea and sleeping bags onto the grounds of Independence Mall, the park in which the gathering was held.

    Law enforcement, which included Federal Park Rangers and municipal police, told activists that large jugs of water and iced tea, which were large enough to serve a number of people, had to be dumped out.

    Despite temperatures near 90 degrees, activists complied. Others who had backpacks with tents or sleeping bags were not allowed to enter the park, as it could constitute a violation of the ban on sleeping in public parks.

    While the Gathering later moved to nearby Franklin Square, due to concerns with strict regulations, activists were allowed to set up food lines to serve one another and anyone — homeless included — in need of some nourishment. Their presence at Franklin Square was, however, approved by Historic Philadelphia, a nonprofit organization that manages the park.

    Occupy activists moved to a nearby Quaker meeting house parking lot, where they were welcomed and able to set up lines for food.


    A nationwide movement

    National Coalition for the Homeless Executive Director Neil Donovan told National Public Radio (NPR) that 30 cities throughout the country have, in some way, banned or made efforts that inadvertently ban the feeding of homeless people in outdoor areas.

    Donovan takes the perspective of many within the Philadelphia activist community, claiming the idea that helping homeless people through additional restrictions is counteractive to the mission.

    “We do feel communities are really, really frustrated with repeated efforts to end homeless that have been quite unsuccessful,” Donovan told NPR. “But we push back and say, you know, that doesn’t mean that you simply throw your hands in the air and make criminals out of homeless people.”

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