Cities, Workers Clash Over Efforts to Feed Homeless
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.
An effort to help the nation's homeless is gaining steam. It's called re- plating. You put your wrapped leftovers on a garbage receptacle, and then the homeless can take it as they walk by. Other people simply feed the homeless in public parks. And now, in some cities, they're discovering they're violating the law.
NPR's Libby Lewis went to Cincinnati to see some do-gooders are fighting back.
LIBBY LEWIS: Call it, feed the meter; feed the homeless.
(Soundbite of coins rolling)
LEWIS: Two quarters gets you two hours in the parking spaces next to the city park, where it's now illegal to feed the homeless. Instead of parking cars in their spaces, church volunteers park long tables. On the tables go big aluminum trays heaped with sausage and corn, macaroni and cheese, salad, cookies and tea.
Bob McGonnagall(ph) cuts through the fallen Oak leaf in Washington Park to give people a heads up about lunch.
Mr. BOB MCGONNAGALL (Sexton; Cincinnati, Ohio): Hey, we're going to have a feed over here in a minute, guys.
LEWIS: McGonnagall is a sexton at a Cincinnati church. He used to be homeless. His partners are a group of local pastors and volunteers. With a big homeless shelter down the street and drug treatment and middle health services nearby, Washington Park is ground zero for the city's homeless.
For years, charity groups fed homeless people here around the tall oaks and the old bandstand. That is until the summer before last, that's when city park officials say they wanted to cut down on trash and debris and encourage other citizens of the city to use the park. So they made it, technically, illegal for charity groups to feed homeless people inside Washington Park.
Dozens of cities have passed similar restrictions. In Las Vegas, the city has issued citations to people who feed homeless people. In Orlando, the city prosecuted a man who was feeding homeless people in a city park without a permit.
(Soundbite of news broadcast)
Unidentified Woman: ...find trial in Orlando. Eric Montanez is the first man to face a jury for feeding the homeless.
LEWIS: The jury found him not guilty. Cincinnati is taking a softer approach than Orlando.
Mayor MARK MALLORY (Democrat, Cincinnati): Well, we try to be reasonable here.
That's Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory.
Mr. MALLORY: You know, I think that the police officers in the area are going to approach the situation with some compassion. Obviously, you know, we don't we want to be in a situation where we are arresting people for attempting to feed other people on the park.
Unidentified Woman #1: Are you hungry?
Unidentified Woman #2: Yeah.
Unidentified Man #1: No mac and cheese in there?
Unidentified Man #2: (Unintelligible).
Unidentified Man #1: Okay. How about some corn?
Unidentified Man #3: Trade your plate sir.
LEWIS: These church folks say, not all hungry people will eat at the shelter, and they believed these meals are an important way to let people from different backgrounds to mix.
But that city has a big plan for this area. Construction has started on a new performing arts school and some of the historic buildings are being turned into condos.
Mark Young(ph) is pastor of a church just across the river. He and the other pastors here believed the feeding restrictions are part of a larger plan to push the homeless out of the neighborhood.
Pastor MARK YOUNG: If you look around all the building, a new construction in this area - they're really trying to disperse this area up, and they want these folks out of here. And when we come, you know, we attract people who are hungry, and that's not who they want here.
Richard Pepper(ph) thinks that the plan too. He's in line for lunch. He's a drug addict. He's been staying at the big shelter called The Drop-in Center.
Mr. RICHARD PEPPER (Resident, Drop-In Center): Eventually, when we build a new school down here, the Drop-In is going to be moved.
LEWIS: Then, Pepper says, all the homeless people will move too.
Mayor Malory says it's his not vision to move all the homeless people out, but he does back a plan to move some social services for the homeless away from the area.
Homeless advocates fear those words, but not business owners. Lisa Yonker(ph) owns a city garden shop around the corner from Washington Park. She says it's hard to keep up business with so many poor people asking her for help.
Ms. LISA YONKER (Owner, City Garden Shop): Hey, well, here's a dollar, and the problem is you do that once, and then the next day, you have three people come by. And then the next day, you four to five people come by.
LEWIS: Sometimes, she says, it just gets overwhelming.
Libby Lewis, NPR News.
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