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Nonprofits push back on possible ‘regulation’ of food distribution to homeless people

<i>WLOS</i><br/>A possible change to how the City of Asheville handles food distribution in city parks
A possible change to how the City of Asheville handles food distribution in city parks

By Andrew James

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    ASHEVILLE, North Carolina (WLOS) — A possible change to how the City of Asheville handles food distribution in city parks, often to the homeless community, is drawing criticism from local nonprofit organizations and church leaders.

“In a time where we need to be expanding the ways that we can reach people, that we would choose to regulate the ways that we reach people who are in need,” said Rev. Milly Morrow of Grace Episcopal Church.

In a statement, City of Asheville spokesperson Kim Miller said, in part, that city staff are researching ways for “safe distribution of food” in city parks and that leftover food and trash have become a “challenge.” Miller also noted the city is looking into a permit system for feeding large groups in the parks.

Below is the full statement from the City of Asheville:

It has come to our attention that there is a misunderstanding in some parts of our community about research City staff is doing to allow for the safe distribution of food in City parks. Unfortunately, this work has been misunderstood as an attempt to ban city park-based meal services for people who are homeless. City staff have no intention of banning food distribution in City parks.

City staff are exploring ways to balance this compassionate act with a safe environment. The challenge: Food and trash being left in parks is creating an unsafe environment. The City is experiencing some tension between food distribution in the parks which in some cases leaves behind a great deal of trash, and impacts park users and the surrounding neighborhoods and businesses. One option City staff is exploring is an ordinance that would establish a permit system for feeding large groups of people. Permits would be given freely and would help to ensure that health and safety standards are met, as well as maintaining the parks free from litter. This idea is in the exploratory stage and has not been presented to Council for policy consideration.

Before any action could take place, the policy would be placed on a City Council agenda and discussed in the open forum of a City Council meeting. This item is not scheduled to be discussed on tomorrow’s City Council agenda.

We are grateful for the service many partners in ending homelessness provide through distributing food to unsheltered people in our community. Our goal is to find solutions that provide for the safety of people experiencing homelessness, the general public and staff.

Flori Pate of Food Connection said a permit system would complicate efforts to get food out to the homeless community quickly.

“We’d also like the freedom because we’re dealing with perishable food to not have to apply for a permit and be able to move this food quickly to people in need,” Pate said.

Community leaders are pushing back on the possible changes because they want more outreach from city leaders.

“So if trash is a problem, let’s talk about trash instead of talking about decreasing our ability to meet the needs of those most impacted by poverty” said Rev. Morrow.

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