Charities, Officials at Odds Over Homeless Feeding

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Cities Enact Restrictions on Serving Food to Homeless People
03/27/2007 | USA TODAY

Ministry Taking City to Court Over Right To Feed Homeless
03/27/2007 | USA TODAY

Cities are enacting restrictions on feeding the homeless, reported USA TODAY. Laws that limit food distribution to certain locations, require charities to obtain permits, or restrict the number of free meals provided by charities are being enforced in such cities as Dallas, Las Vegas, Orlando, Fla., and Wilmington, N.C., the article said. Some groups are challenging the laws. For example, two ministries are suing to block a Dallas law requiring homeless meal providers to obtain a permit and distribute food only in approved locations. Last November, a federal judge blocked a Las Vegas ordinance prohibiting food giveaways in city parks.

According to a national homeless advocate, local laws to curb the serving of food to the homeless aim to make homeless people leave. But Dallas city officials say their rules seek to address crime and food safety concerns while ensuring that homeless people obtaining free meals are also directed to substance abuse treatment and other services.

It was easy to argue that the Las Vegas law violated the constitution, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada told USA TODAY. Las Vegas’ city attorney said the ordinance is being rewritten to pass constitutional muster. Programs that feed homeless people in parks without providing social services, beds, or adequate restroom facilities destroy neighborhoods, he says. Meanwhile, the heads of the ministries challenging Dallas’ law say restricting feeding programs to city-selected sites infringes on religious freedom. The lawsuit, which also alleges violations of other constitutional principles, questions the extent of government authority to regulate private acts of charity, said a lawyer for the ministries.