The City of Philadelphia might soon require those who hand out food to the homeless to obtain permits.
A draft regulation adopted by the board of health Thursday evening would require kitchens where food is prepared to be inspected, and for at least one volunteer trained in safe food handling to be on site when food is served.
City Health Commissioner Don Schwarz said the board realized after Occupy Philadelphia set up camp near City Hall that it had no authority to ensure the food being passed out there was prepared safely, and wanted to mandate education efforts.
Both the permits and training would be free.
Dozens of representatives of “Food Not Bombs” and the Occupy movement spoke out at the meeting, calling the rule a thinly veiled attempt to force the homeless off the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
“It’s not a coincidence that the Barnes (Foundation gallery) is coming onto the Parkway and the city pumping a lot of money into trying to beautify the area (there is a) direct connection to them trying to push homeless and street people out of the area,” said Laura Evangelisto, a “Food not Bombs” volunteer.
Schwarz said the rule is about educating people on safe food handling practices, though he couldn’t cite any instances when people had been sickened. He said the health department would not stop groups from handing out food in specific locations.
“There’s nothing in the regulation to say that, the discussions leading up to this at the Board of Health have not said that, I have not said that,” Schwarz. “The intent of the regulation isn’t to say you can’t feed at X-location. It’s not that, but no one believes that.”
Under the rule, groups would be required to have a hand-washing station on location. They would have to notify the health department when applying for permits where and when they plan to serve food for the next year and what kind of food it might be.
Volunteers for groups that hand out food said they travel to wherever they find hungry people, and they accept food donations, so it would be hard to provide that information a year ahead of time.
“Our fear is that these regulations are going to disrupt food distribution because they will add expensive compliance costs for organizations whose efforts are better spent directly combatting hunger than dealing with inspectors and bureaucrats,” said Sharon Kelly, another “Food Not Bombs” volunteer.
After a 30-day public comment period, the board will vote on the measure.