KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -- Earlier this week, the Kansas City Health Department trashed meals meant for homeless people.
The group, Free Hot Soup, took video and pictures of what happened and defended the work they do, saying the homeless are their friends and why can’t friends share food?
The health department and even Kansas City Mayor Sly James weighed in saying that group must follow the rules.
“Sending the homeless to the emergency room is not a good idea,” said Dr. Rex Archer with the KC Health Department. “The reason we have public health laws is to not be harming others.”
KCTV5 Investigations took a look at the legal battle surrounding this debate, and it turns out it’s a nationwide issue.
Previous Legal Battles
Using city codes to shut down food sharing has gone before a Florida federal court. The people sharing the food won.
The court ruled it was a First Amendment issue and that sharing food is human expression. They cited Jesus Christ and Thanksgiving in the ruling.
The Southern Legal Council represented the 80-year-old man who was arrested over food sharing.
“Outdoor food sharing is one of the oldest forms of human communication,” said Kirsten Anderson with the Southern Legal Council. “The reason it’s protected is that it communicates a message.”
Anderson points out these food codes aren’t generally applied to churches and barbecues at parks, but that they are used to stop food sharing with the homeless.
“These food sharing restrictions are more akin to, ‘don’t feed the pigeons or bears.’ It’s de-humanization of homeless people,” said Anderson.
Free Hot Soup Speaks out
“They don’t like the quality of people we are attracting. They don’t like looking at them,” said Nellie Ann McCool with Free Hot Soup.
Free Hot Soup is challenging the simple storyline that the city wants to keep food safe.
They say the North Blue Ridge Neighborhood Association has been trying to shut the group down because homeless people were coming to their parks and they didn’t like that.
“The first agenda they had was to get Free Hot Soup right out of the neighborhood,” said Maegan Cooley with Free Hot Soup.
KCTV5 was given a copy of the neighborhood association meeting agenda. The action plan says to remove Free Hot Soup at the park. It also mentioned “enforcement of code violations.”
Free Hot Soup says if the city inspectors were really concerned about food safety, they wouldn’t have trashed food, poured bleach on it and then left it for hungry homeless people to scavenge through.
Group members say they were horrified when homeless people tried to pick through the sandwiches and decided that bleach would “clean out their systems.”
Free hot soup challenges the notion that they are an organization that requires permits. They plan to be at city parks this weekend. Some members say they won’t change their meal plans.
Others are clearly trying to avoid another clash and plan to hand out canned goods.
The group has removed information from their facebook page which would tip off city inspectors to what time they will be in different parks.
One picnic group has found a family willing to host the event in their backyard to avoid city interference.
Members of the group also say other city departments outside of the health department have reached out to the group hoping to find a permanent solution.
Group members tell KCTV5 this it is unrealistic for all of them to get food handler’s permits and they do not have access to a commercial kitchen.