A California city is considering a ban on distributing food to the homeless on public sidewalks, parking lots, public streets and other types of public property.
Under the proposal, Lancaster, about an hour north of Los Angeles, would allow some groups to serve food in public parks, but only if they have a permit.
“A lot of people would come to eat, the people feeding them would leave and the mess would be left behind,” Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris said.
“We’re talking about people defecating in the entryways of the businesses,” he said. “It became a public health problem.”
However, opponents of the proposal say creating roadblocks for those who are trying to feed the hungry could put lives at risk.
Many residents spoke out against the plan at an emotionally charged hearing Tuesday evening.
“Mothers and children, they’re the one’s that are going to suffer from this,” one man said.
Navy veteran Michael Ouimet, who has been homeless for 11 years, said finding food is already difficult enough for those living on the street.
“You never really know where you’re gonna get your next meal from,” he said.
According to Parris, the city is searching for alternative ways to aid those suffering from homelessness.
City officials set up a committee after the hearing to study the issue in partnership with local nonprofits. The issue will be revisited in six months.
Lancaster is not the first city to try to tackle the issue of homelessness. Boise, Idaho, made it a punishable offence to camp on sidewalks.
However, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the city would have to have enough shelters to house all the people on the street for it to be approved.
Los Angeles is among numerous municipalities asking the Supreme Court to look at that decision.
“We’re saying that we agree with the central tenet of Boise that no one should be susceptible to punishment for sleeping on a sidewalk at night if there’s no alternative shelter at that point,” LA City Attorney Mike Feuer told the Los Angeles Times. “But the rationale sweeps too broadly. … It makes the opinion unclear and, therefore, the opinion raises more issues than are resolved. And so it leaves jurisdictions like us without the certainty that we need.”