What’s the right way to meet the needs of Philadelphia’s homeless?

    Some well-intentioned people trying to cut Philadelphia’s homeless citizens a break by feeding them a hot meal cannot seem to get a break themselves.

    First the city’s Department of Health started pushing for safety standards and some potentially awkward restrictions, such as submitting menus and dates of operation far in advance. [Update: A modified version of this new rule was passed on March 22.]

    Now Mayor Nutter wants all such activity in public parks to be banned, and for people caught feeding the homeless outdoors without a permit to be fined.

    City Hall is setting up a temporary outdoor space (starting May 1) for public feeders to use, and the mayor will be working on a plan to get homeless clients to come inside instead so appropriate city services beyond food distribution, e.g., psychological, medical and housing support, can connect with them. The city’s team would also work with food-serving organizations to move to indoor locations over the next year.

    So, is it all that bad?

    Give us your thoughts below.

    Nutter says the new procedures are meant for the “health, safety, dignity and support” of Philadelphia’s homeless community — that the city just wants to avoid a public health hazard. But with Gov. Corbett’s budget proposal forcing Philadelphia to make huge cuts to city services for the most vulnerable, how sustainable is any city approach to the problem of homelessness?

    Opponents say Nutter’s plan is a cynical ploy to get homeless folks away from the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and the new Barnes Foundation building.

    The new indoor-only feeding ban raises many questions about enforceability, fairness, discrimination, and logistics.

    In previous NewsWorks posts on the subject, disagreements have broken out between people who support safety standards as a sign of respect for homeless clients and volunteers who want the city to leave them alone to do their work unimpeded.

    A few commenters seemed to arrive at a respectful impasse in discussing a recent essay from contributor Aja Beech.

    Ideally, the city and the volunteers already distributing food to the homeless will find a way to work together, and not at cross-purposes, to create reasonable, beneficial laws.

    Everyone wants to do what’s right. So… what’s right?

    The outdoor feeding ban proposal is undergoing a 30-day waiting period in the Department of Records to gather public comment.

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