Modesto officials plan on introducing to the public next month a proposed ordinance that would regulate how church groups, nonprofits and anyone else feed the homeless and poor in city parks, after growing complaints that this activity has led to litter and other problems.
The City Council decided at a Tuesday workshop to discuss the ordinance at its Nov. 9 Safety and Communities Committee meeting. The committee can recommend forwarding the ordinance to the full council for adoption.
The ordinance would require anyone who feeds people in parks to get a permit from the city and pay a fee. The fee would work like a security deposit. City officials say permits would give them more oversight over food providers and a way to crack down on those who don’t follow the rules.
The city is pursuing this after receiving complaints that homeless people in parks use drugs and alcohol, have sex in restrooms and camp overnight, as well as complaints that these feedings generate litter. While many groups that feed the homeless and poor clean up after themselves, the city says others are not as responsible.
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The workshop drew more than two dozen people and led to a lively discussion about how to balance the rights of the homeless and those who help them against the rights of the rest of the community to enjoy and feel safe in city parks. Some speakers asked whether the city could ban feeding people in parks. City Attorney Adam Lindgren said the city could face a legal challenge if it did that.
Some who feed the needy in parks said they are answering God’s call and that their work is the first step to building relationships with often-mistrustful people and helping them change their lives. “We’re being Jesus to them in the parks,” pastor Brian Snow said, “getting close to them, building a relationship.”
The city is soliciting input on the proposed regulations from those who do this work. They can get involved by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Write “park permit” in the email’s subject line.