Mayor creates task force for outdoor homeless feeding ban, but questions remain

Advocates serve food outside the Board of Health's public hearing on the ban.

A host of advocates, activists and churches gave moving speeches at City Council Thursday supporting Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell’s call for Mayor Michael Nutter to nix his planned controversial ban on feeding the homeless in public.

Elementary students from a local charter school pleaded for its repeal. One man even sang his testimony.

The critics made some good points: The policy says only three people can be fed in city parks at once, but the mayor has previously assured that church groups and family picnics will not be affected regardless of their size. How can the policy be enforced without being discriminatory against the homeless demographic?

A crucial aspect of many forms of worship is the practice of charity and many groups don’t have access to downtown indoor spaces in which to provide meals. How can the policy be enforced without restricting the exercise of religious freedom in Philadelphia?

The questions kept coming: How can the policy be enforced without compounding crises in public health, crime and tourism by compelling the hungry to eat from the trash and commit robberies and thefts to buy food? How can it be enforced without creating a “separate but equal” system similar to those of the pre-civil rights era?

One problem: Blackwell announced at the start of Council that she was holding the resolution, causing Council President Darrell Clarke to stem the tide of speakers about halfway through the list.

“We decided to hold it such that if we wanted to amend it, we could work out a compromise,” Blackwell said by way of explanation. “In terms of the resolution, Council will agree to it, but that doesn’t take it where we want to go because resolutions are non-binding.”

She implied future opportunities to work out a compromise with the Nutter administration. “The goal is to keep the discussion open. All of it is on the table to be changed,” she said, adding that she would be participating in additional hearings before the city Board of Health. “Should we need the opportunity for more input, it’s there, and obviously the Council support is there if I wanted to amend the resolution if reality changes.”

Reality indeed changed Friday when the mayor announced the formation of the Task Force on the Outdoor Serving of Food chaired by the commissioner of the city’s Department of Behavioral Health and prominently featuring Blackwell as a member, along with representatives of many of the city’s social services and some of the other advocacy groups that spoke against the ban Thursday.

The group aims to address many of the questions raised at Council. “This task force will create a dialogue to marshal our good will and resources, so that we can help vulnerable, hungry people of Philadelphia in more effective ways,” Nutter said in a release.

More concretely, the task force will develop an educational and outreach strategy to encourage those who are hungry to eat indoors, according to the administration. It remains to be seen how much the administration is willing to compromise on the policy’s provisions and if, by being brought at least partially into the fold of the policy’s creation, the ban’s vocal opponents will be in any way placated.


Apple says its systems not to blame for…

By Edwin Chan and Christina FarrSAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The week before a crucial launch of its new iPhone, Apple Inc said intimate photos of…


Tallest residential building planned for lower Manhattan

A residential tower planned for lower Manhattan will soar 1,356 feet in the air -- just 12 feet shy of 1 World Trade Center. When…


Bronx man commits suicide by decapitation

A Bronx man committed suicide Monday morning in the Hunts Point area of the Bronx by decapitating himself. According to the NYPD, the 51-year-old man…


Top cops enroll in Twitter course at John…

NYPD officers are reportedly getting a lesson on the best way to use 140 characters or less. The New York Post reported Tuesday top officers…


Pop culture and prostitutes: New Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit at…

Henri Toulouse-Lautrec documented the cult of celebrity and the rise of pop entertainment in his prints, posters and lithographs — now on display at MoMA.


PHOTO: Extreme artist Eskil Ronningsbakken balances unicycle on…

Extreme artist’ Eskil Ronningsbakken balances on the edge of a cliff face at 4,600 feet – on a unicycle. The Norwegian travels across the globe, balancing over vertiginous ravines, tall…


Hear two previously unreleased Adele songs

Missing some Adele in your life? Two previously unreleased songs from the singer have appeared online.


Lincoln Center just made 'Lord of the Rings'…

Middle Earth already has sweeping vistas, a hero's journey and technology-revolutionizing special effects. But next April, the Lincoln Center will add another dimension to Peter Jackson's…


10 storylines to watch for the Giants this…

The Giants rebounded from an embarrassing 0-6 start last season, but not well enough to make the playoffs.


Michael Vick set to be weekly guest with…

Mike Francesa may need to backtrack from his harsh commentary of Michael Vick now that the Jets backup quarterback will be a weekly guest on his show.


Jets expect to make playoffs after sitting on…

The same pundits who predicted the Jets would be woeful a season ago are now eying the playoffs for this revamped team.


Antonio Allen returns to practice after concussion

Antonio Allen was cleared to practice again following his concussion two weeks ago.


In defense of making a mess during playtime

"Recipes for Play" authors Rachel Sumner and Ruth Mitchener think playtime should involve the five senses and making a mess is part of the fun.


Jason Hope helps push anti-aging efforts forward

Reporter was commissioned to write this in-depth article When it comes to age-related illness, the direction of modern medicine seems more reactive than proactive. In…


Today's Doomsday preppers: a closer look at survivalist…

Reporter was commissioned to write this in-depth article. The term “Doomsday prepper” is often associated with the paranoid, anti-government stereotype of the 1990s. The truth…


These college students think breakfast is the most…

  It should be no surprise that the city that never sleeps is also home to the most students who like to order food in…