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18 Jan, 2018 19:11

California city is ‘criminalizing homelessness’ with food-sharing ban, activists tell RT

At least 12 activists were arrested after they handed out food in Wells Park in El Cajon, California on Sunday. The activists doubt the authorities’ claim that they banned charitable acts due to a hepatitis A outbreak.

The activists are members of a group called Break the Ban group and are charged with a misdemeanor. The authorities dropped the charges against a 14-year-old activist.

“The homeless people who were there [at the event] were very thankful that we were standing up [to the ban],” Shane Parmely, a member of Break the Ban and the organizer of the event told RT. The homeless “were very upset that the mayor and the city council members could pass such a heartless ordinance and none of those government officials came out to the park and talk to those people,” she added.

Governments throughout San Diego County have taken several steps to address the recent hepatitis A outbreak in the area, including spraying a sanitizing formula on sidewalks and streets, placing restrooms and portable hand-washing stations in areas where the homeless population congregates and ramping up a campaign for immunizations.

“It means they are criminalizing homelessness. They've created 4 laws against the homeless. No camping, no sleeping in cars, no pan handling and no feeding the homeless,” Mark Lane told RT.

Break the Ban formed in 2017 as a response to an emergency ordinance unanimously approved in October by the El Cajon City Council. It banned the distribution of food on city-owned property, ostensibly to stop the spread of hepatitis A amongst the homeless community in the county.

Parmely, however, doubts that the outbreak was the real reason behind the measure. “They say all the parks are so contaminated with hepatitis A that we don’t want the homeless people to catch it and so we are trying to protect them. But everybody else can still go and have a party in the park and share food with each other. Everybody else is not magically immune from the same hepatitis A within the same space.”

Homelessness has increased in the city and there is a problem with high property values, according to Parmely. “We have a high percentage of homeless who are veterans; we have high percentage of homeless who are working. There is growing criminalization of people who are poor and powerless.”

In 2017 the U.S. Census Bureau Supplemental Poverty Measure found California’s poverty rate to be the highest of any state, mostly due to the cost of housing.

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