PJI to Park Officials:  Don’t Bite the Hands That Feed the Homeless

Sacramento, CA – Officials in Sacramento are backpedaling from initial threats to shut down a small outreach to the homeless in Discovery Park.  A public hearing this week is expected to spark a lively debate on the issue.

For more than two years, half a dozen parishioners from Real Life Church in Natomas have trekked down to Discovery Park every Wednesday to share their lunch and words of encouragement with the homeless who frequent the park.  Late last year, park rangers started telling the group that they would need expensive “special event” permits in order to continue feeding the homeless.  Such permits are only granted four times a year, which would eliminate the weekly potlucks.  County officials also told the group’s leader, Tatiana Capizzano, that their food, usually prepared at home, would need to undergo inspection.

Capizzano turned to Pacific Justice Institute for help.  PJI Staff Attorney Matt McReynolds wrote to county parks officials in December, reminding them that parks are a “public forum,” and the group could not be treated worse than other picnickers just because they chose to share their food.  Last week, Director Jeff Leatherman responded to the PJI letter.  He backed off the initial threats but stated that a permit would be required if more than 50 people participated in the lunches.  Ms. Capizzano is concerned that, while the number of participants is often less than 50, participation fluctuates and is not entirely within her control. 

“The leaders of this outreach are good-hearted, law-abiding citizens who want to work within all reasonable regulations,” noted McReynolds.  “At the same time, the County has to recognize that it needs more, not fewer, people who care about the homeless in our city, and driving them away with bureaucratic gobbledygook is not good policy.”

The Parks Department is scheduled to hear public comment on the Discovery Park outreach and larger changes to its permit policies this Thursday, January 24, at 6 p.m.  The meeting will be held in the Board of Supervisors chambers near 7th & H Streets in downtown Sacramento.  The meeting has been moved there to accommodate an anticipated large turnout.  PJI affiliate attorney Michael L. Faber will be attending the meeting.  Last month, Faber successfully advocated on PJI’s behalf for a homeless ministry in Placerville that had faced government hostility.

Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice Institute, noted, “Ministry to the poor has been a part of the Judeo-Christian tradition for thousands of years.  Both the Constitution and common sense demand that local officials work with—not against—those who reach out to the destitute.” 

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