The city of Philadelphia recently banned all outdoor feeding of people on the street and in its city parks. According to the new regulations, any person or group wanting to do so must now obtain a permit from the city.
On June 1, the "City of Brotherly Love" officially joined an increasing number of cities across the U.S. enacting new laws designed to tighten regulation on aid to the poor.
According to the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, Philadelphia is one of more than 50 other cities around the country that have already adopted, and/or are planning to adopt some form of anti-camping or anti-food-sharing laws.
Mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter announced his plans for the ban early in March. The Mayor cited the lack of sanitary conditions and dignity for the homeless as among the main reasons for the action.
“Providing to those who are hungry must not be about opening the car trunk, handing out a bunch of sandwiches, and then driving off into the dark and rainy night," said Mayor Nutter.
The new ban has sparked quite a bit of controversy since it was announced. Organizations and individuals on both sides of the issue have voiced opinions, organized protests and several religious groups went as far as to file a federal lawsuit over the feeding ban.
According to Philadelphia civil rights attorney Paul Messing, the new law violates the religious organizations Constitutional rights. Messing is the attorney representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
“These individuals are religiously motivated. Under the ‘free exercise’ clause of the First Amendment, and Pennsylvania law, the government can’t interfere with the free exercise of their religion," said Messing.
"In addition, they are trying to send an important message to the public about the plight of those in need, and interfering with their ability to send that message interferes with the free speech provisions of the Constitution.”
Reverend Brian Jenkins of Chosen 300 Ministries (one of the plaintiffs) also commented on the ban. Jenkins told the press: “These regulations are clearly designated not with the intent of protecting the health and dignity of the homeless, but are designed to tuck the homeless in a corner and pretend that the problem does not exist in our city."
However, not all religious organizations in the city are against the new law. Sister Mary Scullion of Project Home (the city's leading advocate for the homeless) is in favor of the new regulations.
Scullion said she believes Mayor Nutter is "between a rock and a hard place" on this issue. After Nutter's announcement, Sister Scullion told the press: “I really want to thank the mayor," adding. "This is not an easy position. But I do think it’s a great opportunity."
The Mayor continues to defend the city's new policy. In a local radio interview, Nutter told listeners: “You can still feed and provide food service outdoors if you get a permit, which is free, and go through a food safety program which is also free."
Later, the Mayor's press secretary Mark McDonald was quoted by USA Today as saying: "This is about an activity on city park land that the mayor thinks is better suited elsewhere."
Adding, "We think it's a much more dignified place to be in an indoor sit-down restaurant. … The overarching policy goal of the mayor is based on a belief that hungry people deserve something more than getting a ham sandwich out on the side of the street."