A Daytona Beach, Florida couple unexpectedly found themselves on the right side of morality, but the wrong side of the law last week.
Their crime: feeding the homeless.
Chico and Debbie Jimenez have spent more than a year working to distribute food to the needy through their Christian outreach group, Spreading the Word Without Saying a Word Ministry. Last Wednesday, however, the couple were met at Daytona’s Manatee Island Park by nearly a half dozen police officers. The Jimenezes, along with four other volunteers, were issued multiple misdemeanor citations, which totaled $373 per person ($2,238 for the group), and were banned from the park.
“Even if you’re not homeless, we don’t care. If you’re hungry, eat. We’re not here to change any laws or anything. We just want to help. These people have become our friends. They depend on us. It’s not like they’re just ‘some people.'”
Police Chief Mike Chitwood defended the action in comments to The Daytona Beach News-Journal.
“The ordinance is there, so if we catch you, we’re going to cite you,” Chitwood said. “If you want to feed people, and you want to do a good, Christian act, we encourage you to coordinate with the social service agencies.”
Daytona Beach is one of a growing number of municipalities that have recently cracked down on the homeless. Rick Wood, an Alabama pastor, made headlines last month when he was told to stop handing out food to the homeless. Jeremy Rosen, policy director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, says that he sees these kinds of laws as “part and parcel of general efforts to move [the homeless] out of cities,” accusing officials of adopting an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality.
Local officials contend that the no-feeding laws are intended to prevent homeless people from being diverted away from appropriate outreach efforts. Robert Marbut, a nationally known consultant, was recently hired by Daytona Beach to assist with planning a transitional homeless shelter named Volusia Safe Harbor. According to Marbut, public feeding programs like the ones run by the Jimenezes actually worsen the cycle of homelessness, largely because they fail to get people any long-lasting help.
The Jimenezes disagree, asserting that local homeless shelters don’t want to lose people to outside groups such as theirs because funding for those agencies is directly tied to how many people they serve. The couple points out that their ministry provides food of better quality than nearby shelters, and utilizes donations to provide other forms of assistance to the homeless. Chico, who worked as a construction project manager, and Debbie, who managed an auto parts store, quit their jobs to devote themselves full time to the effort. The couple say they plan to fight their citations rather than paying them, reiterating that feeding the homeless “is not a crime.”
Images via Daytona Beach News-Journal