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Atlanta Targets Good Samaritans Sharing Food with Homeless


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Police in Atlanta are the latest blunt instrument around the country used to crack down on people sharing food with those in need.

Though the Fulton County permit requirement Atlanta police claim to be enforcing has been on the books for many years, it appears Atlanta's mayor only decided recently to enforce it, just in time for Thanksgiving. Violators face potential fines.

This crackdown is part of a larger, awful, and national trend.

"Beginning in the mid-2000s... many cities around the country began to crack down on good Samaritans... who provide food to the homeless and less fortunate," I write in my recent book, Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable.

An Atlanta Indymedia video, posted on YouTube last month, shows several police officers in and around Hurt Park, which lies at the center of Georgia State University's campus, making vague threats against people who are feeding others or arriving with the intent do so.

Early in the video, for example, we see a flabbergasted woman—who says she's a licensed baker and had just driven for an hour to deliver baked goods to the homeless—turned away by the police. The video later shows at least one person holding a ticket she said officers issued her for allegedly violating county health department foodservice regulations. On the video, she describes the ticket as the same one a restaurant might receive for selling food without a permit.

Many of the Atlanta good Samaritans belong to a nonprofit group called Food Not Bombs. The group has been sharing food with those in need in Hurt Park for many years. I first wrote about Food Not Bombs in a 2011 Hit & Run blog postthat detailed how members of the group had been arrested in Orlando for violating that city's similarly unconstitutionalban on sharing food with that city's homeless.

Volunteers who appear in the video say they'll continue to share food with those in need. Adele Mclean, one of the volunteers who was ticketed, has a court date next week. She says she'll back in the park, law or no law.

In Houston, another city with an awful feeding ban that I discuss in my book, one man is also fighting back. Earlier this year, Phillip Paul Bryant sued Houston, arguing that the city's ban infringes on his constitutional rights. That follows separate lawsuits against Las Vegas and Philadelphia (both of which I first discussed here) by local ACLU chapters.

"What kind of a city—what kind of a human being—would tell others that they couldn't share food with those in need?" I ask in Biting the Hands that Feed Us.

Then-New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg famously banned people from donating food to city shelters in 2012 "because the city can't assess their salt, fat and fiber content."

In Atlanta, one face of the ban is Georgia State University Police Chief Joseph Spillane.

"Efforts to feed the hungry can be a drain on resources when trash is left and security is required," reports Georgia State University's student paper, the Signal, "according to Chief Spillane."

Judging by the number of police officers milling about the park and ticketing people in the Indymedia recording, the police themselves are solely responsible for that drain on resources. No one's security appears to be threatened, either, save by police.

And what of the alleged trash Spillane cites? Volunteers on the Indymedia video balk at that claim, saying they bring their own trash bags and remove and dispose of any trash generated during the feeding program.

Chief Spillane, who says he's grateful for all the support he received after a recent drunk-driving arrest and related suspension, goes on to argue that volunteers who are providing support to the homeless are doing little more than "throwing some food" at those in need.

Some critics also contend that sharing food with the homeless doesn't solve the problem of homelessness. And they're right! You know what also doesn't solve the problem? Everything from not sharing food with the homeless to rooting for a football team that blows a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl to—at least to date—every other human action intended to solve the problem of homelessness.

If Atlanta officials can solve the problem, then by all means they should share their plan. Otherwise, they should get out of the way of those who want to help.





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Cities, volunteers clash over feeding homeless in public



ATLANTA (AP) -- When Adele MacLean joined others in an Atlanta park to feed the hungry the Sunday before Thanksgiving, she left with a citation and a summons to appear in court.

The case was dropped when she showed up in court earlier this month, but she and her lawyers say the citation for serving food without a permit was improper and demonstrates callousness toward the homeless. The city and some advocates say feeding people on the streets can hinder long-term solutions and raises sanitation concerns.

"I'm still outraged this is happening," MacLean said after her court appearance Dec. 14. "I'm concerned that the city, whenever they want to crack down on the homeless, they're going to go after anyone that tries to help them."

About 40 cities nationwide had active laws to restrict food sharing as of November 2014, and a few dozen more had attempted such restrictions, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. Interim Director Megan Hustings said she doesn't have updated numbers but that she's heard about more cities considering such regulations.

MacLean, a volunteer with a movement called Food Not Bombs, was cited Nov. 19 by a Georgia State University police officer after her group refused to stop feeding the homeless in a downtown park, and her lawyers say city officers have been distributing a "misleading pamphlet" bearing the city seal that says a permit is required to feed people in public places.

That's simply not true, said Southern Center for Human Rights attorney Gerry Weber, who's representing MacLean. Permits are required for restaurants, food trucks and festival food vendors, not for people sharing food at no charge, he said.

Even though MacLean's case was dropped, it doesn't mean officers will stop telling people they can't feed the homeless, and doesn't eliminate the possibility of future citations, Weber said. The Southern Center is pushing for a clear statement from the city that people have a right to feed the homeless in public places, he said.

Conflict between city government and groups feeding the homeless in public isn't unique to Atlanta.

A Fort Lauderdale, Florida, ordinance requiring permits to feed the homeless in a park is being challenged in federal court by another Food Not Bombs group. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in that case in August but has not ruled yet.

The lawyers in that case argue the ordinances violate the group's right to free speech because group members share food "as an expression of their political message that hunger and poverty can be ended if society's resources are redirected from the military and war."

"I salute genuinely the good will and good nature of all these people. There is no bad guy in this," said Georgia State University police Sgt. Joseph Corrigan, a chaplain who also leads the department's homeless outreach program.

But instead of having feedings that pop up in different places all the time, it's better to connect people with shelters or other established organizations that provide consistent help and services, he said.

Food safety, garbage and the human waste left behind when people are fed in a place with no bathrooms are also concerns, Corrigan said.

Additionally, many homeless people struggle with serious mental illness or addiction, which can make them wary of help, said George Chidi, social impact director for Central Atlanta Progress, a nonprofit community development organization that serves downtown Atlanta. The city has teams whose mission is to reach out, develop trusting relationships and, ultimately, connect the homeless with housing and treatment services. Public feedings can disrupt those efforts, Chidi said.

"We don't want anybody to stop feeding people," he said. "We just want it done in a way that's connected to social services providers ... and not on the street corner because we can't make sure those connections are being made in these street corner feedings."

MacLean doesn't buy those arguments.

"Food is a human right, and you don't force people to do what you want them to do by withholding food," she said.

Some avoid shelters because of strict rules, safety and health concerns or because they aren't able to be in the same place as family or friends, she said.

Hustings said restrictions on public feedings are most commonly enacted or enforced when the homeless population becomes more visible. In Atlanta, advocates say, more people have ended up on the streets after the recent closure of the city's shelter of last resort.

"Even though the rhetoric will be around providing access to safe food or something that purports to be considering the folks who are homeless and need the food, a lot of times our communities across the country know it's because citizens don't like seeing large gatherings of people who look homeless," Hustings said.




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Sounds to me like the Atlanta justification is :      The homeless are like pigeons...if you feed them they will hang out where they get fed......so if we make sure there is no food  they will g somewhere else....like Chicago for example?  

Tough problem for the cities but a typical bureaucratic solution

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