New local ordinance restricts food distribution for homeless
West Palm Beach community members claim a city ordinance enacted on March 23 is preventing efforts to feed those in need. This new ordinance requires a permit to feed a group of over 25 people, and failure to procure it may result in a $500 fine or 60 days for a first offense.
Ashton Rogg works with the Give Back Community, a global movement of millions of people whose mission is to inspire one another and live generously through their actions. Their ultimate goal is to help those in need. College students started the organization to feed the homeless population in West Palm Beach.
Previously, the Give Back Community would meet on the Clematis Street lawn. However, due to this new ordinance, Rogg said the organization had to relocate. She explained that the first time the police were involved, they asked the organization to leave and even threatened to arrest its leaders. This forced the organization to vacate its spot on Clematis for an entire month.
“It made me feel scared. We didn't think we were doing anything wrong. We just wanted to help people but the police treated us like criminals,” Rogg said.
In July, the organization returned to Clematis, and Rogg explained that the cops surrounded them and stated they could only distribute clothing and material items -- not food.
“Some of the homeless people told us they hadn’t eaten in two days, and they knew we had food to give them but didn't understand why we couldn't give it to them. It left us with such a hopeless feeling,” Rogg said.
Advocates argue that this regulation interferes with their efforts to help the community. At the same time, city officials feel that it is necessary to address sanitation and long-term solutions for keeping the area safe. Organizations and individuals distributing meals without proper authorization may face penalties, including fines and potential jail time.
“The police said that there was a high increase in crimes due to more homeless people so they want to discourage homeless people from being around -- they want to push them away,” Rogg said.
City officials defend the ordinance by citing concerns over litter, unsanitary conditions and the need for comprehensive solutions beyond providing food assistance alone. They argue that well-intentioned groups may leave behind a trail of debris, further burdening the city and its residents. By requiring permits, the city aims to promote coordinated efforts that address not only immediate needs but also long-term solutions related to housing, mental health support and substance abuse assistance.
“We don't want to support gathering a bunch of homeless people here. We want this to be a nice street, a clean street, and unfortunately, because of all of the homeless people around, the crime has increased. I know it's not all of them but one ruins it for everyone,” said a Palm Beach County officer.
The organization has moved from its spot on Clematis Street to Curry Park, where they helped people like Tony Merritt, who has been living in the park for some time due to medical bills after a car accident forced him onto the streets.
Currie Park is home to Meritt.
“It's not easy. We get a bad image -- but I didn't choose this life,” Merrit said.
There are days when it is hard for him to get a meal. However, Merritt says that thanks to organizations like The Give Back Community, he is able to eat.
By Luiza Desouza