On August 13th 2012, judge William H. Yohn Jr. lifted the ban against feeding the homeless in Philadelphia. This ban, an initiative of Mayor Michael Nutter, prevented the distribution of hot meals in public settings. The ban was meant to address the concern of the homeless community receiving poor medical treatment, lacking hygiene facilities, and increased food-borne illnesses.
Despite Nutter declaring that the ban was in compliance with the public’s interest, it received community backlash from religious organizations. Feeding the homeless is a central mission of many churches.
Ministry group Chosen 300 and three other churches sued the city of Philadelphia under the Pennsylvania Religious Freedom Protection Act.Yohn wrote, “It hardly needs to be said that plaintiffs’ food-sharing programs benefit the public interest. Despite [the city’s] considerable efforts, many Philadelphians remain homeless and hungry”.
Judge Yohn’s lifting of the ban is greeted with much approval from the YACHT Club. YACHT member, Ryan Byrne states, “Mayor Nutter claimed the ban would be dignifying to the homeless. His up-down approach told the homeless what it means to be ‘dignified.’ But, to the homeless, the outdoor-feeding area is about more than food access. It’s the place where people of different classes, races, and religions gather.
It’s where they know to find their friends, homeless or otherwise. As the faithful we find it important to not define ‘dignity’ from our economically privileged standpoints, but to stand in conversation with the poor – to remind ourselves that blessed are the poor.”
As a result of the ruling, Nutter is working with an appointed task force to find solutions to serve the homeless. Of the 14 members is Andre Cureton, member of the Bethesda project and YACHT colleague. Cureton, who was once homeless, has tremendous passion and commitment to the betterment of the homeless community. Cureton stated the effects of the ban will not affect the YACHT club, but food certifications are necessary to distribute hot meals.
The task force concluded with recommendations to establish consensus leadership and capacity to move the city forward to address hunger and food insecurity. By facilitating relationships with private sector organizations and city resources, Cureton stated, “We should have one goal in mind, to provide services for the homeless. We all need to put our differences aside. If there is anger at the table, then no one will eat.”
With the approval of the Mayor, action is underway to initiate safe food service programs.
NBC 10 News