Newark's Scrooges Want To Ban Giving Food to Homeless People

Donating to the needy, in addition to being a generally nice thing to do, is a protected First Amendment activity.


It seems like every Christmas season, as we're all encouraged to be charitable to those in need, some local government threatens to punish those who do.

This year it's Newark, New Jersey. The New York Times reports that city officials are planning to ban charitable groups like churches from feeding the homeless without the proper permits.

According to the Times, city staff announced just before Thanksgiving that it was outright banning groups from feeding homeless people out in public places. But after the Times contacted the city and started asking questions, a spokesperson for Mayor Ras Baraka changed gears and said the organizations would have to get permits. Anybody found feeding homeless people without a permit will be ticketed and fined.

This proposal is not only heartless, but also arguably unconstitutional. Bans on feeding homeless people in other cities have been challenged on the grounds that such sharing counts as expressive conduct under the First Amendment. In August, a panel of judges for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled that Fort Lauderdale, Florida, violated the First Amendment rights of the philanthropic group Food Not Bombs when the city passed a similar ordinance requiring organizations to seek permits before feeding the homeless.

While it may feel odd to consider the idea that giving somebody food is a form of speech or expression, the court took note that Food Not Bombs was an organization using its philanthropy to spread a particular message—that social welfare should have higher priority and food access should be treated as a human right. One does not have to agree with their position to understand that their actions, then, are also expressive conduct. Similarly, churches and individuals have also challenged these bans under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) because their food donations are part of their religious missions.

Newark officials did the familiar song and dance to try to justify using the force of government to stop people from voluntarily giving food to other people in public places even though such activities were not causing harm nor violating anybody else's rights. They insisted they wanted to make sure that the food being given out was safe and wanted people to go to shelters and soup kitchens instead of feeding in parks. The mayor has chosen a "homelessness czar" named Sakinah Hoyte, and the city opened a housing facility this year to serve as transitional shelters for the needy. "Feeding people in parks doesn't encourage any sort of transitioning folks into housing. It keeps people living on sidewalks and sleeping outside," said Hoyte to the Times.

She provides no evidence to support this claim, and the Times follows up by talking to Josiah Haken, the program officer for City Relief, which serves meals to the homeless. Haken points out that offering food to people living on the street is the first step of building trust that will be necessary to get them into housing eventually. But Hoyte is taking the very bureaucratic line of thinking she can order the homeless to go to the proper places and talk to the city-approved people for help.

The Times also notes that members of a nearby business improvement group representing a neighborhood currently undergoing redevelopment have been pushing for restrictions on feeding homeless people outdoors. But using government power to punish charitable work will not fix the city's problems with homelessness.

Below, Reason TV covered a similar ordinance passed in Philadelphia in 2012:

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  1. Socialists cannot tolerate charity because the latter actually benefits humans, society and the environment without government intervention.

    1. Seriously I don’t know why more people haven’t tried this, I work two shifts, 2 hours in the day and 2 in the evening…FXh And i get surly a check of $12600 what’s awesome is I m working from home so I get more time with my kids.

      Try it, you won’t regret it........CASHAPP NOW

    1. This is obviously the important corruption story of the day.....

      1. Obviously, you didn't read Bill Godshall's post about socialists and charity, which is my post to a tee. Fun Fact: The Trump children were sent to "charity" school. Obviously the important charity story of the day.

        1. You're right, Trump represents all people who aren't socialists. Good catch.

  2. ”…without the proper permits.”

    1. Well, they are Democrats. You must have their permission to do anything.

    2. I've got my first check total of $15,550, pretty cool. I am so excited, this is the first time i Actually earned something. I am going to work even harder new and i can't wait for next week payment.jjf Go to home tab for more detail.......I highly recommend to everyone to apply...

      Join this right now............Pays-/24

      1. Kerstin, that job is wirthless in NJ without the proper permits.

  3. Feeding the homeless in accordance with your religious beliefs is no more protected by the first amendment than keeping and bearing arms is protected by the second.
    Both can and do require permission from the NJ government.
    Welcome to the revolution. (the fascists won)

  4. Without government, who would punish those who help the less-fortunate?

    1. I really hate the term "fortunate." It implies luck. Like homeless people are just victims of bad luck instead of paying the price for bad decisions.

      1. Well, some are the result of bad decisions. But statistically, many who end up homeless do so because of bankruptcies - and the statistical evidence is strong that a large number of personal bankruptcies are triggered by medical emergencies. And those we do generally consider bad luck. Absent self-inflicted wounds like smoking, people don't generally plan to get cancer, to break a hip or to have to quit a job so they can take care of a child with MS. Not all are but many are just unlucky (and deserving of our compassion).

        1. That’s not why bums are on the street.

          1. It is why some of them are on the street.
            Others (many others) are on the street because of mental health issues - again, not something that people typically plan to develop.
            Others are on the street because of drug addiction - some of which is the result of bad decisions but a surprising proportion is a result of our poor social response to mental health crises discussed above.
            But, yeah, some are lazy or just manipulative. I'm not defending all who claim homelessness. I'm just saying that casting indiscriminate aspersions is unfair to the folks who really are unlucky.

  5. I was homeless for a few months back in the 90s. The restaurant where I worked went under the same month my lease ended.

    While sofa surfing and occasionally staying at a shelter, I found that homeless people fall into three groups.

    There were those like me who were working hard to save money to get a new place to live. I call them "temporary homeless." They don't need help because they will help themselves.

    There were those who liked the lifestyle. I call them "tramps." They don't need help because they are homeless by choice.

    Then there are those who are mentally ill and/or have severe addiction problems. Never came up with a name for them. They're the ones who need help. The problem is that they're so fucked up they can't take care of themselves. How do you help people like that? Give them a place to live and they're going to destroy it. Give them money and they'll spend it on their addiction. I suppose the best you can do is give them food and clothing.

    1. I can only respond with $Trillions given to the rich and millions of people are OK with that.

      1. er, what?

        1. Throw me a bone ?

    2. "While sofa surfing and occasionally staying at a shelter, I found that homeless people fall into three groups."

      In my work with the homeless, whether in housing, food, or in population studies and surveys, I found this to be pretty accurate. The thing to remember, though, is that the percentage of each group can vary significantly depending on both the general and local economy. During a serious recession, or local challenges, the percentage of folks who are temporarily homeless due to job loss can reach over 50% of the homeless population, where normally it would be somewhere half of that. Even during a good economy, forty percent of the population of homeless individuals may be diagnosed mentally-ill. And then there are those who, for whatever reason, just choose that lifestyle. I worked a bit with all three populations, not just from my office, but in the field. We will always have homelessness -- the goal is to make services and help available to those who can use it, and that isn't a simple problem one can just wave money at.

      1. Chefs that cannot make a Cuban sandwich tend to find themselves unemployed and vulnerable to becoming homeless.

  6. sounds like an organized protest, then, meaning they need to meet time, place, and manner requirements and get a permit for their rally.

  7. Random strangers handing out food of questionable cleanliness & hygiene to homeless people is the entire Glibertarian strategy for dealing with Capitalism-induced hunger and poverty & so it makes sense billionaire-funded Reason dot com is registering their opinion on the matter.

    1. "...Random strangers handing out food of questionable cleanliness & hygiene..."

      Sounds like any one of thousands of fast-food restaurants.

    2. "...dealing with Capitalism-induced hunger and poverty "
      Which is orders of magnitude less severe than the hunger and poverty induced by non-capitalist systems. Of course you don't bother to prove any of this is induced by capitalism rather than interference with capitalism.

  8. Hoyte and Baraka were just mad they didn't get first pick of the food. They are just bums living off taxpayer dollars.

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  10. Feeding the homeless can produce significant negative externalities, which are often borne by the residents of the area in which the feeding takes place, and not by the feeders, who often live at a considerable distance from the site.

    The scenario that I witnessed in one city was: Upper-middle-class people drive down from their houses in the distant suburbs and spend a few hours ladling soup at a near-downtown church. They then drive back to said suburbs, far away from the recipients of their charity. Those recipients, meanwhile, disperse through the neighborhood of the church, urinating in people's yards and snatching potentially salable articles off porches and out of unlocked sheds. When the residents of the church's neighborhood complain about these, they're accused of bigotry and hatred toward Society's Most Vulnerable Members.

  11. "bureaucratic line of thinking she can order the homeless to go to the proper places and talk to the city-approved people for help."

    "proper places" = State and Federal Government funded.
    "City-approved people" = Public Sector Union employees

    A small Social Club I belong to has several elderly members. It was originally a neighborhood club and many of these people live close by. A group of them would stop by in the afternoon and have a glass of wine or a beer. We always had food on hand and would usually make sure they got a meal into them. We also have several members who are health professionals and some of them have stopped in about that time. More than once someone was taken to the Doctor or Hospital because of something that was noticed. In March of 2020 our Club was shut down because of COVID. Several of us would meet there on Saturday, make up meals and deliver them to our members through out the week. Well somebody saw us, assumed that we had the Club open and turned us in. The Alcohol Authority showed up, saw what was going on and left. (actually the Agent kicked in $50 to help out) A few days later the Local Police were called. Again there was no problem, except that a person from the Health Department came along as well. We were covered for that, but, she notified the Agency on Aging and they showed up. They actually tried to shut us down and make us give out the members names and addresses so that they could register them. It was all about funding. She made a remark about Meals on Wheels and shut up when I told her that they shut down a month ago. There's big money in the homeless. How dare that volunteers do the job of paid "professionals".

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