A wave of anti-feeding laws enforced this summer in cities nationwide has met with mixed sentiments from homeless ministries.
In Dallas, those interested in feeding the homeless must first become certified via a city-run food handlers' class. Denver has banned eating and sleeping on public property without permission. And Philadelphia ministries are up in arms over a recent ban on feeding the homeless in city parks.
Brian Jenkins, head of Chosen 300 Ministries, and two other pastors filed suit in July, alleging the city's action violates their First Amendment rights. A federal district judge has blocked the ban until after a trial early next year.
"These folks are a community," said Jenkins, "and it's our responsibility to help them where they're at."
Other homeless advocates believe the wave of restrictions is a good thing that will lead to the homeless being helped more holistically.
Jim Lewis, president and CEO of Long Beach Rescue Mission in California, says the recent government-enforced elimination of a parking turnout used to feed the homeless in Long Beach's Lincoln Park will help steer the homeless toward indoor facilities equipped with chapels and restorative resources.
"We're called to disciple, and hospitality is one of the most immanent ways of expressing the love of Christ," Lewis said. "The community needs to incentivize individuals to take a step in a different direction."
Robert Lupton, president and CEO of Atlanta-based FCS Ministries and author of 2011's Toxic Charity, says the best response is for churches to open their doors to provide relational support and encouragement, leading toward drug treatment and job training.
"The absolute worst response is loading your trunk with sandwiches and taking your youth group downtown to pass [them] out," he said. "That simply increases dependency. There's no accountability and nothing developmental in that approach."
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