Faith-based groups speak out at homeless summit

City asks for input on safely feeding the hungry

SAN ANTONIO – Faith-based organizations that minister to San Antonio's homeless came prepared to speak Tuesday at a summit regarding how the city could possibly regulate feeding the hungry.

"The criminalization of generosity is what we don't want to see take place," said Mark Johnson, executive director of Taking It to the Streets, a ministry serving San Antonio and the Hill Country.

Christinna Abbitt, who was homeless and is now active in Resurrection Ministries, asked, "Would you like to go hungry? Would you like someone to feed you when you're hungry?"

Melody Woosley, director of the city's Department of Human Services, said many already believe San Antonio has a homeless feeding regulation, but it does not.

"We don't have anything that either regulates or prohibits feeding the homeless. We don't cite people from feeding the homeless," Woosley said.

But Joan Cheever recently had her case dropped by the city after SAPD issued her a ticket for serving food from a vehicle, instead of the Chow Train, a food truck she's licensed to use.

Cheever said she came to the summit to propose an ordinance that Good Samaritans serving the homeless and working poor, be exempt from those types of penalties.

However, Woosley said the city's top priority must be food safety.

"We don't want to see anyone's health compromised because they've eaten food that's bad," Woosley said.

Cheever said then volunteers should be required to take food safety classes to become certified food handlers.

"I'd be willing to revise the ordinance for that purpose, but they have to exempt Good Samaritans from calling them criminals and giving them a ticket," Cheever said.

Brian Wickes, pastor of Resurrection Ministries, said in the 18 years he's been feeding the homeless, "I've never had one single incident of anyone getting sick. None of this was an issue until Haven for Hope opened.

Known as the city's primary homeless shelter, Haven for Hope also takes a holistic approach by trying to help residents overcome their homelessness.

Abbitt said, "I don't think they're ought to be a monopoly on love, kindness and what God gave to us freely."

Woosley said the city doesn't want that spirit diminished, only handled in such a way that keeps in mind neighboring businesses and the public.

The recommendations from the summit will be taken up this fall by the city council's Quality of Life committee.