Baylen Linnekin has a long essay at Reason’s Hit and Run about the common problem of American cities trying to prohibit people from feeding the homeless in public parks, where many of them are likely to be found. He notes that this goes at least back to the early 20s, when New York City police beat a group of unemployed men being fed by a group of elderly women in Bryant Park. But more recently:
Starting in about 2006, several cities began arresting, fining, and otherwise oppressing private individuals and nonprofits that feed the homeless and less fortunate. A 2006 NPR report referred to a Las Vegas ban on feeding the homeless—a ban challenged by the Nevada state ACLU chapter—as “among the first of its kind in the country.”
The suit went on for four years. As the Nevada ACLU recounted in announcing a pending settlement between the group and the city in 2010..
Terms of the Las Vegas settlement require that police may no longer ban and ticket those feeding or being fed “unless there is evidence of unlawful activity, and in those cases a valid arrest must be made or a citation issued.” Which is as it should be.
Still, in spite of the suit and settlement, feeding bans like the one initiated in Las Vegas appear to be growing in number around the country.
I blogged at Hit & Run last summer about a ban in Orlando—the first of the most recent spate of such big-city laws. In that case, members of the anti-war group Food Not Bombs had been arrested for feeding the homeless in Orlando city parks.
Since then, other cities have followed suit. In New York City, for example, Mayor Michael Bloomberg banned food donations to the homeless earlier this year “because the city can’t assess their salt, fat and fiber content.”
The ACLU has been filing suits all over the country on this, and winning them once they get to court.