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Little Rock plan seeks to limit feeding poor in parks

by Chelsea Boozer | May 14, 2017 at 4:30 a.m. | Updated May 15, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

Little Rock officials are asking the elected Board of Directors to approve rules that would make it harder to feed large groups of homeless people in city parks.

City Manager Bruce Moore introduced an ordinance that will be voted on at the board's 6 p.m. meeting Tuesday that would require a $500 security deposit, $25 application fee and 30 days notice for anyone to feed 25 or more people in a city park.

The ordinance, researched and drafted by City Attorney Tom Carpenter, also would limit any person or organization to just two "large group feedings" per park per year.

In theory, an organization could use each of the city's 63 parks or recreational areas twice annually for a total of 126 feedings per group per year.

"One concern is we did have issues with feedings in the Julius Breckling [Riverfront Park downtown.] That ended when they started building the bridge, but they're about to finish with that," Carpenter told board members at a meeting Tuesday. "We had complaints with businesses, particularly in the River Market area. So we wanted to get a proposal in place that says, 'Look, you can feed, you can use parks to feed, but you can't feed every day in the same park.'"

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Moore said in an email Wednesday that the rules "will allow organized and coordinated" feedings.

Advocates for the homeless say the city's solution is punitive rather than reformative and that officials need to stop getting in the way of people trying to help the less fortunate.

"Part of our perspective is going to be that people are looking at this as a way of solving a problem, which we don't necessarily see as a problem," said Fred Ball, pastor at San Damiano Ecumenical Catholic Church and co-chairman of the Arkansas Homeless Coalition. "My assumption is it targets feeding the homeless because nobody complains about feeding church groups or schoolchildren. We really have to find a way to address the problem of people being uncomfortable with those who are different."

At-large City Director Joan Adcock met with the coalition Wednesday and said she had concerns about the ordinance. In addition to affecting the homeless, it could affect summer and after-school feeding programs for children, she said.

The ordinance has an exemption for any city entity, any governmental agency or any group that has contracted to use part of a park or has part of the park under lease. It also excludes events hosted at the River Market pavilions from having to follow the rules as long as the organizers follow protocols for using the pavilions.

"I have a lot of questions that need to be answered," Adcock said about the proposed ordinance.

But, she also pointed out that the city and groups that advocate for the homeless are trying to solve different problems. They need to work together on a solution that addresses both, instead of thinking solely from their own viewpoints, Adcock said.

"Our problem is we've got a city that is not feeling safe. You've got a problem in that we've got a population that needs housing ... needs feeding," she told the coalition. "The city feels like they are solving a problem they have right here [with this ordinance]. ... You and I both know this is not going to solve your population's problem at all. But there's not an honest talk because everyone has their turf. Y'all need to come to the city with a plan, with a proposal. You've got enough churches if you came up with an outline, you've got enough churches to feed [the homeless]."

Carpenter said the ordinance is not only meant to address trash and any potential damage left behind after groups feed homeless people, it's also meant to preserve the purpose of the parks.

"The fact of the matter is, you use different parks for different things, and large group feedings on a regular basis is not what they were intended for," Carpenter said. "This is meant to allow people to be able to do these things they desire to do, but not just locate it in one place and end up changing the nature of that place."

The ordinance says certain parks, in particular the sculpture garden in Riverfront Park, "are not conducive to conducting large group feeding events due to the number of participants, limited available space and the potential for damage to occur."

The $500 security deposit that would be required before the city issues a permit for a "large feeding," is meant to cover the cost of repairing any damage to the park area and its furnishings. The deposit would be refundable.

The required $25 application fee per feeding would not be refundable. The ordinance would require notice of at least 30 days, but no more than 90 days. It would require the person applying for the permit to list any organization he is affiliated with and provide a letter from that organization.

That group could not be issued a permit more than twice in 12 months for a feeding at the same location.

Carpenter said he modeled the ordinance after one in Orlando, Fla., that was upheld by appellate courts.

Aaron Reddin, co-chairman of the Arkansas Homeless Coalition and executive director of the homeless outreach ministry called The Van, shook his head in frustration several times during Wednesday's coalition meeting when the ordinance was discussed.

"The city needs to put people before its businesses. No one is asking you to fix it all, we're just asking you to stay out of the way," Reddin said.

He and others have had an ongoing conflict with the city since January, when he organized a protest outside City Hall after the city suddenly evicted people from known homeless camps.

While the city has worked with Reddin to change some of its protocols for posting eviction notices at camps in response to property-owner complaints, Reddin said the evictions haven't stopped.

Metro on 05/14/2017

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