Most of the support for the homeless comes not from city coffers but from churches, non-profits, and private individuals.
That's why a ban on feeding the homeless makes absolutely no sense.
I blogged at Hit & Run last summer about a ban in Orlando-the first of the most recent spate of such big-city laws. In that case, members of the anti-war group Food Not Bombs had been arrested for feeding the homeless in Orlando city parks.
Since then, other cities have followed suit. In New York City, for example, Mayor Michael Bloomberg banned food donations to the homeless earlier this year "because the city can't assess their salt, fat and fiber content." Those familiar with Mayor Bloomberg are likely only surprised here that Hizzoner missed adding sugar to the list of terribles.
In a March 2011 piece on a proposed ban on feeding the homeless in Houston, Take Part writer Clare Leschin-Hoar noted that the city's ban would have added a panoply of requirements for feeding the homeless there, including limiting food service to three city parks and forcing groups to "register with the city; complete food handlers training courses; prepare food in licensed kitchens; and require a cleanup plan following food service." The ordinance ultimately passed by Houston is a slightly less onerous (though still terrible) one that simply "requires permission from the city government before serving food in city parks."
As it was in Mr. Zero's day, choosing to crack down on those who volunteer to feed the homeless is a bad idea. It's an even worse idea to seize on at a time when lots of people are hungry (see here, here, or here), food pantries are stretched beyond the breaking point, and increasing numbers of Americans are subsisting on food stamps.
A religious group may have separate First Amendment rights to feed the homeless as part of its protected religious mission, just as a group like Food Not Bombs may have separate free-speech rights if feeding the homeless is part of a larger "bake sales versus bombers" protest. But every American enjoys assembly rights separate and distinct from any religious or speech rights-something the Pennsylvania ACLU should make clear here. After all, the U.S. Constitution guarentees the right to assemble peaceably for any reason, while the Pennsylvania Declaration of Rights guarantees that "citizens have a right in a peaceable manner to assemble together for their common good."
If you asked a homeless person if they cared about the fat content of the food they were eating, it should go without saying that they would accept the risk of heart attack in order to keep from starving to death.
The only thing that is consistent with these bans is the bureaucratic mindset that rejects the notion that people can act as individuals, or as a voluntary collective, in a free society to make a difference. They know what's best for us, for the homeless, and for the city and God help you if you stand in their way.