An uproar is brewing in the Midwest, where representatives from a health department have confronted volunteers who were feeding the homeless. When officials determined that they group’s organizers didn’t have the proper permits, they poured bleach on the food that the volunteers had prepared.
— Mayor Sly James (@MayorSlyJames) November 5, 2018
“The food, which included sandwiches, home-made chili and soup, was due to be handed out in parks across Kansas City, Missouri, by a volunteer group Free Hot Soup KC,” The Daily Mail writes.
#KansasCity Mayor and Health Dept.? Pouring bleach on food? There’s a better way to protect (and feed!) the #homeless in your city. They were so hungry they ate the food you contaminated anyway! Kansas https://t.co/ZFvebVH1M0 editorial:https://t.co/UE5MOqjGgT
— Terri Hansen | Indigenous (@TerriHansen) November 12, 2018
On Sunday November 5, representatives from the health department raided parks where volunteers had set up picnics. They poured bleach on sandwiches and soups in a tactic that they describe as “standard procedure.”
And now we are being being mocked nationally. Great job @MayorSlyJames! Between this, your voter suppression on the streetcar and skyrocketing crime your legacy seems to be set. https://t.co/c7VRKekrJ0
— The Hand (@TheHand77) November 13, 2018
Their rational is based partly on the permit issue and partly on their concerns over food safety. Because the food was prepared off site, and transported to the parks, “E. coli or salmonella or listeria can grow in food.”
Free Hot Soup KC, the loosely organized group of concerned citizens behind the efforts to help the homeless, take food to parks and feed small groups of Kansas City’s homeless.
They work in pairs, prepare the meals together, and then bring soups, chili, sandwiches, and some prepackaged foods to the parks. They serve until the food is gone, or there’s no one left to feed. Leftover food is then taken to a local church that serves as a shelter.
Not only did Kansas City officials destroy a batch of food intended for homeless people, they *conducted a sting operation* to catch other charity groups who might be feeding the homeless without a permit. https://t.co/iWD8lUXUo9
— Radley Balko (@radleybalko) November 12, 2018
“Outdoor food sharing is one of the oldest forms of human communication,” Kirsten Anderson of the Southern Legal Council told reporters. She’s working to defend the group’s right.
“The reason it’s protected is that it communicates a message.”
“[F]or many people here, it’s a freedom of religion issue,” attorney Amy Bell added, “that their religion dictates that they come and share their food and help the needy.”
“There is no question that feeding the homeless is critical. There are 43 organizations (not counting Free Hot Soup Kansas City) that have permits and do it in a safe way,” Kansas City Director of Health Rex Archer told reporters after the raid.
Archer claims that the group, which has been operating since 2015, was given notice in September that they were breaking the law. The group denies this. Organizer Nellie Ann McCool has another theory. She has implied that the officials are upset that the group is pulling homeless people to the public parks.
Either way, the raid has sparked outrage. In the week since the bleach incident, the news has gone viral and placed Kansas City’s officials in an uncomfortable public spotlight.
They were offered free education, free permits and free food handler cards. Can’t get much freer than free. https://t.co/ITGCpOxmda
— Mayor Sly James (@MayorSlyJames) November 7, 2018
Mayor Sly James has offered a lengthy explanation of the incident.