Feed the hungry: More resistance to cold government planners | Arkansas Blog

Monday, May 15, 2017

Feed the hungry: More resistance to cold government planners

Posted By on Mon, May 15, 2017 at 10:08 AM

click to enlarge UNDER THE BROADWAY BRIDGE: A Christmas meal drew a crowd in 2012. The city doesn't want to restart such efforts. - ALISON CHINO/2012 BLOG POST
  • Alison Chino/2012 blog post
  • UNDER THE BROADWAY BRIDGE: A Christmas meal drew a crowd in 2012. The city doesn't want to restart such efforts.
And speaking of resistance: It's forming to the proposed Little Rock city ordinance, on the City Board's agenda Tuesday, aimed at making it impossible to offer regular feeding of the homeless in city parks.

UPDATE:
The Board will not take action on the proposal on Tuesday, but hold it on first reading.

Groups would have to obtain permits for free feeding of large groups and would be limited to two events per park per year. It's a transparent effort to prevent re-starting of a weekly feeding program beneath the Broadway Bridge near Riverfront Park when the bridge construction project is completed. It's also part of a comprehensive strategy by the city of Little Rock to hassle the homeless in their camps, panhandling spots and elsewhere.

Robert Johnston, a former state legislator who's long been active in homeless feeding programs, wrote this morning:

Please do not pass the local legislation as drafted about feeding in City parks.

You will appear - and be - heartless, lacking compassion, unChristian, inhumane, and mean.

You will stir up a firestorm of opposition that will embarras the City and cost millions $$$ MILLIONS in lost economic development

Those of us who feed the hungry [and homeless] will figure a way around the ordinance that you will like even less. ... I have some ideas.

Robert Johnston
Volunteer Coordinator. Feed the Hungry
On this topic: State Rep. Bob Ballinger opined on Twitter today that he believed the city ordinance would run afoul of the state's relatively new religious freedom act — passed so that religion could be used as a pretext to discriminate against gay people. It also could be used to prevent city crackdowns on people practicing their religion by ministering to the needy, he said. I expressed my doubts about the expansiveness of this interpretation, but Ballinger pointed me to a Think Progress article about a successful lawsuit in Texas brought under a religious freedom statute to prevent a Dallas crackdown on church feeding efforts for the homeless. The parallels are not strictly identical, but the broader issues are the same. And you'll see from the article that Little Rock is only the latest in a long, mean tradition of city efforts to deprive the homeless and efforts to curb charitable religious intent has run afoul of more than one court. Cities are NOT prohibited from making rules, but they can make them so onerous that they amount to bans on religious practice. When the Think Progress article was written three years ago, however, something was said that's worth repeating here:

“cities can save a lot of time and money if they work with homeless service providers, work with homeless advocates, and adopt reasonable policies and procedures that constructively help get homeless people off the street as opposed to simply enacting these punitive ordinances on their own and then having to wind up in court,” said Jeremy Rosen, Advocacy Director for the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP).
The city of Little Rock seems to have taken more of a top-down approach on its homeless policy and chosen to ignore people who work with the homeless, outside of the city's day shelter in the far southeastern corner of the city.

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