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Philly Mayor Seeks Ban on Churches & Community Groups Feeding the Poor Outdoors

"It's a clear violation of civil rights."

PHILADELPHIA (The Blaze/AP) -- Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter wants to ban community organizations from feeding the hungry and homeless in city parks. While he says controversial measure is being implemented in the best interest of those in need, critics believe his methods are more rooted in tourism protections and city profit.

Nutter says he wants the homeless to eat indoors, where mental health and medical services can be provided. Currently, there are several outdoor locations where the poor show up in large numbers -- sometimes by the hundreds each day -- to receive food and nourishment.

"My motivation is not to exclude anyone," Nutter explains. "I want a hungry person in need to know they can go to a clean, dry place."

In a press release announcing the decision, Nutter said:

"Today, I am announcing a new policy initiative aimed at increasing the health, safety, dignity and support for those vulnerable individuals who now gain their daily and often less than daily sustenance from well-intentioned people distributing food on City streets. For many years people of good conscience have fed the hungry on the streets of Philadelphia and I very much appreciate their efforts. But I believe we all can do better. I believe that if we join together, marshal our good will and resources, that we can help vulnerable, hungry people of Philadelphia in more effective ways."

But organizations that already serve meals outdoors say the ban is a ploy to get the homeless out of high-traffic areas, like the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, home to many of the city's museums. In fact, one of the feeding locations is very close to the $200 million new Barnes Foundation building (a museum), which is scheduled to open in May.

The reaction to the regulation has been swift and diverse. Philly.com has more:

Sister Mary Scullion, cofounder of Project HOME and the city's most visible advocate for the homeless, said she backed the proposal but would monitor it carefully.

"I'm here today taking a risk because I honestly believe that [the Nutter administration is] trying to move forward in ending hunger and homelessness in our city," she said. "This is not an easy position, but I do think it's a great opportunity."

Brian Jenkins, executive director of the Chosen 300 Ministries, a network of 73 churches that feeds homeless people at several locations around the city, including on the Parkway, said the mayor was guilty of discrimination.

"It's a clear violation of civil rights," he said. "The reality is that before the Barnes Foundation comes in, they are trying to get people off the Parkway."

Nutter says the true aim is to offer better and safer food to the hungry. He says the city will set up a temporary space for serving meals at City Hall's northwest corner and offer free food safety classes for organizations that want to serve meals.

The ban will take effect following a 30-day comment period.

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