Volunteers in Atlanta, GA were outraged when they received citations and a summons to appear in court after they were trying to do a good deed by feeding the hungry people in a local park.
Several volunteers, including Adele MacLean, a member of ‘Food Not Bombs,’ headed out to a park in Atlanta to feed those without food near the Thanksgiving holiday. Instead of helping people, she and the other do-gooders were asked to refrain from feeding the homeless people in the downtown Atlanta park. Upon refusal, MacLean was issued a citation and a summons to appear in court by a Georgia State University police officer.
Although the case was dismissed when she and her attorney arrived for the recent court date, her attorney indicates that city officers have been circulating a rather “misleading pamphlet” with the city seal, which indicates that a permit is required in Atlanta to feed people in public places.
“That’s simply not true,” MacLean’s lawyer, Southern Center for Human Rights attorney Gerry Weber said of the supposed ordinance. “Permits are required for restaurants, food trucks, and festival food vendors, not for people sharing food at no charge.”
MacLean and her attorney stand by their thoughts that the citation issued to her for serving food without a permit was wrong and completely “demonstrates callousness toward the homeless.” The city of Atlanta as well as advocates of the ordinance say that feeding people who live on the streets is a concern for sanitation issues as well as the fact that it can possibly hinder long-term solutions to help the issue.
“I’m still outraged this is happening,” MacLean said after her court date in December. “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.”
According to Weber, although MacLean’s court case was dropped, this it doesn’t mean people are allowed to help feed the homeless in Atlanta, nor does it mean that the officers will stop distributing the pamphlets or issuing citations when people attempt to distribute food to those in need. Weber further indicated that the Southern Center is asking for clarification and a clear statement from the city of Atlanta whether volunteers have the right to feed the homeless in public places.
Georgia State University police Sgt. Joseph Corrigan, agrees it is a tough call, “I salute genuinely the goodwill and good nature of all these people. There is no bad guy in this,” said the 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 valid concerns.”
George Chidi, social impact director for Central Atlanta Progress, a nonprofit community development organization that serves downtown Atlanta also expressed his concerns.
“Additionally, many homeless people struggle with serious mental illness or addiction, which can make them wary of help,” he said. “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.”
“We don’t want anybody to stop feeding people,” Chidi 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.”
The restriction of food sharing with the homeless began in November 2014. Today, there are around 40 cities nationwide that have enacted laws to help restrict food sharing. In addition, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless Interim Director Megan Hustings, there are several dozens of cities that attempted similar restrictions – so this unfortunate conflict between city government and volunteer groups isn’t something that is unique to Atlanta.
Currently, the ‘Food Not Bombs’ group in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is challenging an ordinance that requires the issuance of a permit to feed homeless people in a local park. The ordinance is being challenged in federal court by another by the group and is awaiting a ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on that case.
~ 1776 Christian