Newark Will Require Permits To Feed Homeless People; Here’s Why

NEWARK, NJ — Groups who want to give food to homeless people in Newark may soon need a permit from the city, or they could get a ticket. But there are reasons why, Mayor Ras Baraka says.

On Tuesday, The New York Times reported that city officials are planning to roll out a new ordinance that would prohibit agencies and individuals from feeding “residents without addresses.” Read the full article.

“All violators will be ticketed and fined,” a city spokesperson wrote in an email.

The Times noted that Newark wouldn’t be the first large U.S. city to create such an ordinance. According to a 2019 report from the National Homelessness Law Center, at least 17 cities across the nation either ban giving out food in public areas or require permits for it.

Some blasted the city's proposal on social media.

But after the Times posted their article, Baraka released a statement about the plan, saying that there’s more than meets the eye about the proposed ban.

The mayor wrote:

“Recent news about the city requiring permits from well-meaning groups to continue feeding the homeless have left the impression that the city is somewhat insensitive to the needs of our fellow residents without addresses. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the permit requirement ensures the safe handling and distribution of food for the protection of the consumers, including those exposed to homelessness. Every city public celebration, street fair and Heritage Day requires food vendors to file for such permits. The only difference is the volunteer groups feeding the homeless get their permit for free.”

There are benefits to requiring permits, Baraka said. For example, the city would be able to “quickly and efficiently” track the source of food if people get sick.

Baraka added that officials are also trying to coordinate aid efforts to the 23 homeless shelters and 55 food pantries/soup kitchens located throughout the city, not just in certain spots.

“This way, these groups can feed our homeless in places where shelter, social services and mental health outreach are available,” Baraka said.

The effort also includes asking groups not to focus their efforts solely around Newark Penn Station, he said.

“We strongly believe this approach is a better path to transition our unsheltered residents into permanent housing,” Baraka stated. “Encouraging them to congregate for food in a place such as the Penn Station area where no such services are available only contributes to their day-to-day existence. We consider these neighborhood settings to also be far safer for our unsheltered population. The area around Penn Station is congested with car and bus traffic and has proven to be dangerous for people who have mental and physical health problems.”

The mayor said Newark officials have recently made several big moves to improve conditions for the city’s homeless population. They include:

HOPE VILLAGE - “The city last year established an emergency shelter called Newark Hope Village, a safe sleeping village allowing the most vulnerable people to stay as long as 90 days and find the pathways to mental health, drug treatment and social services available to them.” See Related: Newark Transforms Empty Storage Containers Into Homeless Shelters

SCHOOL TO SHELTER - “Nearly one year ago, the city broke ground on converting the Miller Street Elementary School into a 166-bed transitional facility for men, women and families, complete with social and health services.” See Related: Newark Is Turning An Old School Into A Huge Homeless Shelter

DEVELOPER CHALLENGE - “Our Making Housing Homes Challenge is inviting developers to create 200 transitional and permanent housing units to serve our homeless.” See Related: Can These 'Tiny Houses' Help Ease Homelessness In Newark?

COVID OUTREACH - “During the height of the COVID pandemic we housed and fed nearly 2,000 homeless men, women and families to minimize the spread of the disease among them. Because of this action their rate of infection was among the lowest of any group in the city.” See Related: Newark Raises Bar For Homeless Outreach In Coronavirus Crisis

“Our record on caring for the homeless is commendable,” Baraka said. “Could we do better? Yes, and we will keep trying until we eradicate homelessness.”

The mayor concluded:

“Creating homes and providing services for our fellow residents without addresses is a proven top priority of my administration. Here in Newark, we meet these challenges with compassion, sensitivity and unbridled efforts to preserve their dignity. Any words to the contrary are disingenuous and do not illustrate the complete picture.”

More people are experiencing homelessness in Essex County than any other part of the state, according to Monarch Housing Associates’ annual count. The 2021 survey, which was done on Jan. 26, counted 1,693 homeless residents in Essex County – about 21 percent of the entire state's total. About 85.9 percent of those people were living in Newark.

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This article originally appeared on the Newark Patch