Amid Crackdowns on Homeless People Living Outside, Group Appeals Food Sharing Case

Homeless tents are pitched on a sidewalk in the Skid Row area of downtown Los Angeles Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017, as tables are set up on the street to serve dinner to homeless people at the Los Angeles Mission's Annual Thanksgiving Dinner Celebration.

Homeless tents are pitched on a sidewalk in the Skid Row area of downtown Los Angeles Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017, as tables are set up on the street to serve dinner to homeless people at the Los Angeles Mission's Annual Thanksgiving Dinner Celebration. AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

Food Not Bombs is appealing the latest ruling in a case that challenged restrictions on sharing food with the homeless in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Allowing groups to share food with the homeless in a city park could lead to secondary problems comparable to those fueled by adult movie theaters, a federal judge wrote earlier this year in an opinion upholding a Florida city’s ability to restrict such activity.

A group that had been holding weekly food sharing events in Fort Lauderdale is now appealing that decision, arguing that the city will stifle their First Amendment rights if it restricts where or with whom they break bread.

Food Not Bombs, an anti-war activist group, regularly hosted vegan and vegetarian shared meals with homeless people in Fort Lauderdale’s Stranahan Park’s gazebo without incident until the city passed an ordinance in 2014 banning the practice in parks. The law imposed certain food safety and safety requirements for those distributing meals and, for a short period, the city issued citations to people who participated in food sharing events, earning widespread criticism.

Members of Food Not Bombs, a national group founded in Massachusetts 30 years ago, share meals as a means of political expression, and believe resources spent on war should be redirected to address homelessness and hunger.   

“They share food not as a charity, they see it as an act of political solidarity,” said Kirsten Anderson, an attorney with the Southern Legal Counsel, who is representing the group.

The group filed a lawsuit to challenge the ordinance in 2015. Last year the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the group’s favor, finding that their events were expressive conduct,  but it remanded the case back to a district court judge to determine whether the city ordinance was a violation of the First Amendment.

In August, U.S. District Judge William J. Zloch sided with the city, writing that preventing Food Not Bombs from sharing food “as a social service in certain venues is not an attack on their rights of expressive association.”

Zloch compared the city’s desire to regulate the food sharing activities to a previous Supreme Court ruling that upheld a zoning ordinance restricting adult film theaters, “not because of the content of their films but in order to ‘prevent crime, protect the city's retail trade: maintain property values' and generally maintain 'the quality of urban life.’”

Under the city’s ordinance, the group and other members of the public were free to take part in any demonstrations, he said.

“The fact that a restriction is placed on a particular method of expression at said demonstrations does not impair this freedom of association,” Zloch wrote.

In its appeal filed Friday, Food Not Bombs argued that Zloch was incorrect in determining that the group’s actions were not “inherently expressive.” They also pushed back on the insinuation that the city had a right to regulate their actions due to concern over possible secondary effects, such as crime. 

The Fort Lauderdale City Attorney’s office did not return calls seeking comment about the case. But in previous court filings, the city indicated that it had repealed the law regulating health and safety standards in outdoor food distribution centers. Further, the city defended another rule banning social services like distribution of food or clothing in parks without the city’s permission, writing in a November 2018 filing that rule “does not purport to regulate speech, protests or other forms of expressive activity.”

“While it is true that any type of conduct may involve some sort of expressive activity or purpose, First Amendment protection is extended only where the conduct is intended to convey a particularized message, a reasonable person would interpret the conduct as some sort of message and explanatory speech is not necessary or the reasonable observer to perceive a message from the conduct,” wrote an attorney representing the city.

Bans on food sharing have not been particularly popular across the country, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. The center’s survey of 187 cities in 2016 found that 6% of cities had such bans.

Most often, cities seek to regulate food distribution under the auspices of health and safety concerns, said Eric Tars the center’s legal director.

Groups that have challenged such restrictions or outright bans have been most successful defending their actions under the First Amendment when their organizations are distributing food as part of religious expression, he said.

“The area where there has been lack of clarity is on the non-religious groups side, like Food Not Bombs, that do it in part as a protest,” Tars said.

More recently, cities have pursued camping bans as a means to prevent homeless people from sleeping on the streets. City and state governments are urging the Supreme Court to hear a case stemming from a camping ban in Idaho. Meanwhile the Trump administration has advocated for more aggressive intervention by law enforcement to address problems posed by large concentrations of homeless people living on the streets.

“What all of these things have in common is the true target is the visibility of homelessness in a public space,” Anderson said. “The reason why groups such as our clients are being singled out is this idea that by sharing food in a public space that they are attracting homeless people to a public space or at a minimum making homelessness very visible in a community.”

Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.

FEATURED CASE STUDIES
Powered By The Atlas
A large urban park creates a "connected" visitor experience with SMART.NODEs™
Sydney NSW, Australia
Community feedback increases 13x in Lancaster, PA with both offline and online engagement methods
Lancaster, PA, USA
Erie County, PA offers all local restaurants free digital tools to plan for safe COVID reopening
Erie County, PA, USA

NEXT STORY: Efforts To Move The Needle On Flu Shot Rates Get Stuck

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.