Fight over homeless feeding erupts again


The city council votes today on a controversial ordinance to regulate feeding of the hard core homeless.

The vote follows a special committee session Wednesday in which about two dozen people spoke against it.

That happened after the committee had previously advanced the ordinance and recommended it be passed.

They held the special Wednesday hearing to give the homeless and others an opportunity to speak.

The issue has been under discussion since January 2013, after police, the city and neighborhood groups cracked down on a large homeless camp near Kessler Park in the northeast.

The camp resulted in mounds of trash, including food containers, along with human waste and petty crime that included some meth production.

Supporters say the regulations would allow about 20 smaller groups to legally feed the homeless on site by getting a new free permit.

The main feeding groups like the Salvation Army and Uplift already have paid for other kinds permits and feed on site legally. Smaller unpermitted groups are sometimes ordered to stop and can get tickets.

Councilman Scott Wagner on Thursday tried to persuade food sharing groups that the required free permit helped them and protected the homeless against food poisoning. It’s requirements are minimal and include promoting discussions between neighborhoods and food sharing groups, he said.

In the last year in the city, there have been 115 complaints filed about food poisoning and more than 200 people sickened, he said.

Most were from operations with permits and none were homeless feedings.

“If it happens in areas that have permits, it most certainly will in those that don’t,” Wagner said.

Councilman Jermaine Reed spoke against the ordinance.

“We’re supposed to feed those who can’t feed themselves,” he said.

Then, one by one, about 25 speakers weighed in with only two supporting the ordinance.

Major Douglas Roland of the Salvation Army, noted there is no documented city case of a homeless person made ill from a feeding operation.

“It’s a solution to a problem that does not exist,” he said. “We just feel this is not the way to handle the homeless issue.”

Richard Tripp, director of Care of Poor People, said they have been feeding about 3,000 people twice a year for decades without a case of illness. “I … can’t understand how a trash ordinance has ended up as a food ordinance,” he said. “I’m very sure that if this passes there will be a lot of them who want to vote you out.”

Dan Schipfer, board chairman of Uplift, said “the ordinance seems very rushed” and asked for it be delayed.

Stephen Garrett, a homeless man, said he has never gotten sick from food sharing.

“Is this really a question of public health or of separation and more division?” he asked.

Bishop T.R. Caldwell, of Eternal Life Church Family Care Center, said that under the ordinance, “it would be better for them to get something out of a dumpster than for me to feed them.”

Jerry Whisler of Feed the People said, “This has nothing to do with the homeless issue …what it does is criminalize good, law abiding citizens.”

Jeff Lodes, a homeless man, said, “this ordinance is rich people trying to put down the poor.”

He also said, “When the weather starts warming up, you’re going to have more homeless camps and more trash.”

Tom Rivera, president of the Independence Plaza Neighborhood Council, spoke for the ordinance as a way to better control food sharing and camps in neighborhoods.

“Organize it, bring some sanity to it,” he said.

Wagner said, “This ordinance is going to the council tomorrow – so up or down they’re going to make a decision.”

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