Hearing begins over food service in Philly parks

    Opponents made their case first Monday during a hearing over Philadelphia’s ban on public food distribution.

    The ban applies to the city parks, but Philadelphia has offered an alternative, temporary space near City Hall.

    Violet Little, pastor of the Welcome Church, said that location is not a viable option for her congregation, which includes many homeless people.

    “Many people won’t walk to City Hall for what it represents,” Little said. “City Hall has not always been a friendly symbol to them. And, it’s not the park. We are causing segregation between people who are housed and people that are homeless.”

    City Solicitor Amanda Shoffel promised testimony from a non-profit leader who successfully serves the homeless at the alternate site.

    Parks Commissioner Michael DiBerardinis testified that the distribution of food to hundreds of people — in concentrated locations — degrades and overburdens the park system. He also answered whispers that the ban was timed to clean up the Benjamin Franklin Parkway for the Philadelphia opening of the Barnes Foundation.

    DiBerardinis said concerns over public food distribution have “been around for years” and he felt no pressure to respond to local cultural and civic groups.

    “Paul Levy and Judi Rogers do not make public policy for my department,” he said.

    Levy leads the Philadelphia Center City District. Rogers is head of the Parkway Council.

    Little and other religious leaders say the city ban is unconstitutional and interferes with their mission to care for the homeless.

    Solicitor Shoffel said she will argue that the city ban does not target faith groups, and is simply an attempt to “regulate an activity that has created significant issues for the city.”

    The hearing was set to continue Tuesday. Mayor Michael Nutter is on the witness list.

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