The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Bans on Feeding Homeless Spread, Face Challenges

by Catherine Komp

Aug. 4, 2006 – Anti-poverty activists and civil rights advocates filed a lawsuit against the city of Las Vegas this week challenging an ordinance that makes it illegal to feed homeless people in public places.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada filed the suit Wednesday on behalf of activists with Food Not Bombs, a grassroots anti-poverty group that provides free, vegetarian meals in hundreds of city parks across the country. Plaintiffs claim the new law, passed July 19 , violates constitutional rights to free speech, free exercise of religion, free assembly, due process of law and equal protection under the law.

Las Vegas joins a growing number of cities passing laws and ordinances that target the homeless and their advocates. City councilors in Orlando, Florida also recently voted 5–2 in favor of a measure making it illegal to feed homeless people in public parks and other downtown areas.

The Orlando ordinance bans dispensing food to large groups within a two-mile radius of City Hall without a permit, and limits permits to “two per user per park in a 12 month period.� The ordinance states that feeding groups in public parks creates “hazards to the health and welfare of citizens, birds and animals, and is detrimental to the aesthetic atmosphere of parks.�

As previously reported by The NewStandard, a growing number of cities are passing laws and ordinances intended to push homeless people out of public places. In addition to anti-panhandling, anti-camping and anti-loitering ordinances, feeding programs in public parks are the latest targets. Homeless-rights advocate Michael Stoops described this trend as "a big battle in downtown American between the interests of low-income people and the interests of the business community."

Food Not Bombs has faced pressure in other cities, including Richmond, Virginia and Venice, California. Likewise, faith-based groups offering meals in parks have been pressured by city leaders and businesses to move their programs to less visible – and often less accessible – places.

The ACLU announced it may also bring a lawsuit against the city of Orlando on religious grounds. "The city is not going to be able to interfere with church groups and religious groups who are fulfilling their mission of feeding the homeless," Howard Simon, executive director of the Florida ACLU, told Reuters.

In a letter to Mayor Buddy Dyer outlining his dissent to the new law, Commissioner Robert Stuart said, “This ordinance appears to criminalize the good-hearted behavior of thousands in our community who have supported those that our city has either ignored or disregarded.�

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

This News Report originally appeared in the August 4, 2006 edition of The NewStandard.
Catherine Komp is a contributing journalist.

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