The American people are, by and large, an incredibly charitable group of citizens, as evidenced by the countless private organizations that take it upon themselves to provide care and support for the less fortunate among us, such as the homeless.
Sadly, government far too often gets in the way of charitable acts by the citizenry by way of innumerable rules and regulations, and a prime example of such was the disgraceful way in which Kansas City officials handled food that had been prepared for the city’s homeless population and was being distributed in three city parks.
KCTV reported that the Kansas City Health Department conducted “stings” on the three parks on Sunday, Nov. 4, against an organization known as “Free Hot Soup KC” that has been feeding the homeless in the park for nearly three years.
The stings resulted in health inspectors throwing away food — and then dumping bleach on the food to prevent anyone from retrieving it from the trash. They then ordered the charitable volunteers to vacate the parks because their group had failed to acquire the proper permits — which can be obtained for free — to serve prepared food in a public place.
This was done even as hungry homeless citizens were waiting in line for what arguably may have been the only hot meal they would receive in days, and they were forced to watch the food be destroyed and rendered inedible by the bleach right in front of them.
As heartless as it was to throw the prepared food away right in front of the hungry homeless people, it is simply disgraceful and mind-boggling that they would then completely ruin that food and ensure that it was too toxic to eat by pouring bleach on it.
The Health Department defended their actions as necessary and claimed that they had issued warnings to the “Free Hot Soup” group in the past about needing a permit to do what they do, though an organizer for the group — Jennifer McCartney — disputed that they’d been warned previously and told KCTV, “We’ve never had this issue ever” in the three years they’ve been feeding the homeless on the weekends.
The Health Department, which has been backed up by Mayor Sly James, said in a statement, “Not preparing food carefully puts everyone at risk. The homeless in some cases have even more challenge. Their ability to fight off an infection may be even less.”
— Mayor Sly James (@MayorSlyJames) November 5, 2018
However, the charitable group challenged the Health Department by wondering what the difference was between their serving prepared food to the homeless without a permit as compared to others serving permit-less prepared food for a large barbecue or birthday party in the park.
All is not hopeless, however, as the The Kansas City Star reported on Sunday that the “Free Hot Soup KC” group had returned to the parks Sunday afternoon from which they had been booted last weekend to resume their charitable service to the homeless in the community, this time without any adverse interference from the city government.
The group’s volunteers came prepared with a mindset to stand up to the government officials and defend their actions this time, and those volunteers who work in the food industry also came equipped with their own permits as food handlers, just in case the city attempted to shut them down again.
This time, their efforts to feed the homeless were not ruined by overzealous health inspectors, and the police officers who’d mediated the contentious shut down the prior weekend stood by and allowed the charitable event to proceed. As yet, there has not been an official response from the Health Department to the group’s return to the parks just one week after they’d been shut down by force.
Interestingly, the city’s Health Department may not have a leg to stand on in their effort to force the charitable to comply with their regulatory regime, as Forbes reported in August that the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, citing precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court, had ruled that feeding the homeless constituted “expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment.”
That decision stemmed from a 2014 incident in Florida where a group that fed the homeless in city parks without permits had been shut down and their leaders arrested — including a 90-year-old man and two ministers. The group ultimately sued and the case eventually reached the circuit court, but has now been sent back down to the lower courts to determine if the Fort Lauderdale city ordinances against feeding the homeless in city parks are in violation of the First Amendment protected right to share food.
It will be interesting to see if anything further comes of this, such as if Kansas City will continue to demand charitable groups obtain a permit to share food with the homeless — and ruin that food if no permit is obtained — or if they will back off and allow the citizens to handle the city’s problem with homelessness in the best way they see fit.
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