The city of El Cajon, close to San Diego, California, recently made headlines when officers arrested a group who was feeding the homeless in a local park.
The people arrested are part of a group known as Break the Ban and were giving out food and other items to homeless people in Wells Park on Sunday, Jan. 14, in the afternoon.
This goes against a unanimous city ordinance passed back in October that prohibits food distribution on city-owned property. The goal of that ordinance, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune, was to “protect the public from hepatitis A.” The City Council created the ordinance in response to a public health emergency regarding the spread of hepatitis A. At the time, officials only said that the ban would be lifted once the public health emergency was over.
The City Council expressed concerns about the health risks of feeding groups of people in an unregulated manner.
In the report, council members explained that people who had given food to the homeless didn’t need permits or to follow regulations about food preparation, storage, transportation, and serving. There were also additional problems with garbage left behind. Unsurprisingly, the groups who had been feeding the homeless in El Cajon parks on a regular basis were not happy about this ban.
This led to the creation of the group Break the Ban and the recent arrests reported by the San Diego Union-Tribune.
According to Mark Lane, an event organizer, between 12 and 15 people met at Wells Park on the 14th to pass out toiletries and food. There were an additional 40 or so people present, a group that included lawyers, but they did not actually pass out any food.
The event served a twofold purpose. Attendees wanted to feed those who are a homeless while also legally contesting the new ordinance. One of the organizers, Shane Parmely, told the San Diego Union-Tribune:
“It was absolutely necessary to break this law until they were willing to enforce it, and, now that they have, we will continue this fight in court.”
None of the people arrested were led away in handcuffs.
Instead, they were each given misdemeanor citations, along with court dates. The police even arrested a 14-year-old child. They explained that the citations were for not complying with the municipal ordinance in addition to the emergency order. This is not the end of the efforts by Break the Ban, however. Members are still close to the beginning of the battle, as this was their second event.
Break the Ban is now partnering with Food Not Bombs, who has also hosted two different food-sharing events.
The next similar event will be at Wells Park on Jan. 27. Lane told reporters:
“Our goal is to get the ban overturned and sit down and figure out how to humanely deal with something that is not going away.”
The Huffington Post reported that in a recent press conference, Lane argued that the ban is “based on an excuse.”
The group is sticking to their convictions and working to overturn the ban.
In the press conference, Lane explained:
“Yes, we have a problem with Hepatitis A, but you don’t battle that by not feeding homeless people. You battle that by giving them proper restroom facilities, proper hand washing facilities, and vaccinations, education.”
Another highly quotable statement made at the event was made by Matthew Schneck, who told reporters that if he was “to be arrested for something, let it be for feeding the homeless.”
Schneck also shared his citation via a Twitter photo.
While the hepatitis A outbreak is indeed serious, affecting 577 people as of Jan. 3, there are better ways to deal with it, and Break the Ban hopes to get the City Council to try one of those methods.
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