When Government Criminalizes Charity

Blog Post - When Government Criminalizes Charity

Churches and charities have been struggling recently with a rising tide of legislation regulating, or even outlawing, the practice of giving food to homeless people. New York City outlawed food donations to homeless shelters because the city can’t assess their salt, fat and fiber content.

Several other cities force people to pay thousands of dollars for a permit each time they use city property to feed homeless people, effectively banning such charity work. Orlando, for example, restricts sharing food with groups of more than 25 people, requires purchase of a costly permit, and limits each group to two permits a year.

In Houston, for example, handing a sandwich to a homeless person in a city park or serving a bowl of soup in a rented storefront can earn you a $500 fine. Some charitable organizations, financially unable to risk the fines, have relocated outside the city.

Although officials claim the laws are meant to keep public areas clean and clear, the effect is to hinder private charity work and push government closer to a monopoly on food aid.

And the list of places enacting such laws just keeps growing.

New York City - Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s outlawed food donations to homeless shelters because the city couldn't assess their salt, fat and fiber content.

Sacramento, California – If you are an activist you are required to have a permit in a county park to feed the homeless. The required permits range from $100 to $1250, depending on how many people you are trying to feed. Only four permits can be allocated per group each year.

Houston, Texas – You must have written consent to feed the homeless from the city or face a fine up to $2,000.

Orlando, Florida - Groups must obtain a permit and each group is limited to two permits per year for each park within a 2-mile radius of City Hall. The penalty for violating the ordinance is 60 days in jail, a $500 fine or both, and several people have been arrested under the rule.

Shawnee, Oklahoma – A permit is required, but the city has decided not to issue permits to groups that share food with the homeless community in the park.

Manchester, New Hampshire – No organizations can share food with the homeless community on public property in Downtown Manchester.

Chico, California – Costly permits are required to pass out free meals in a public park, and organizations must reapply for their permit every three months. Those sharing food without a permit could face harsh fines and even jail time.

Lake Worth, Florida – It is not allowed for a “large group” to share food with the homeless community in a public park.

Columbia, South Carolina – Any organization that wants to distribute food must pay $150 for a 2-hour permit at least 15 days in advance.

Medford, Oregon – If an individual or an organization wishes to feed the homeless they must obtain a 6-month renewable permit from the city.

Raleigh, North Carolina – No individuals or groups are allowed to distribute meals or food of any kind in or on any city park without an $800 per-day permit.

Hayward, California – Organizations and individuals are not allowed to share food with the homeless on public property without a permit, insurance, and $500 refundable damages deposit, may do so only do so once a month, and have to get a food-training certificate from the county.

Daytona Beach, Florida – A permit is required to feed the homeless. Those who do not have a permit to share food could face severe fines and the possibility of jail time.

Salt Lake City, Utah – A food handler’s permit is required to distribute food to the homeless.

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina – An expensive food safety permit is required to share food with the homeless in a public park

Pasadena, California – Food that is going to be distributed to the homeless community must be prepared in an approved location.

Corpus Christi, Texas – Proposed legislation would prohibit people from feeding the homeless in public parks, public areas and streets. Instead, organizations would have to feed the homeless in approved indoor locations.

Los Angeles, California – Proposed legislation suggests that organizations will be banned from sharing food in public places.

Ocean Beach, California – City officials have asked organizations to stop feeding the homeless.

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania – Organizations are banned from feeding homeless people in parking lots near the county courthouse and administration buildings.

Seattle, Washington – Organizations must obtain a permit to feed the homeless outside. Outdoor food sharing can only happen in areas chosen by the city.

Charlotte, North Carolina – Organizations are not allowed to share food outside. Mecklenburg County provides a building for organizations to feed the homeless indoors. Organizations must register, follow the guidelines and commit to regularly showing up with food.


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