Kansas City council members debate issue of feeding the homeless

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Kansas City council members could change the way people in the city feed the homeless.

For years, volunteers-- many good hearted church groups-- have served hot meals on street corners or under bridges to the city's homeless.

Many of the homeless, who come with substance abuse problems or other social issues, find it difficult to stay fed and clothed.
 
But those acts of kindness are being criticized by some city council officialsand police. They say handing out hot meals to the homeless on the streets does more harm than good.

Business owner Noe Sanchez said the crowds of homeless grew bigger and bigger last year near his Independence Avenue business. He realized they were waiting for the meals from the Good Samaritans at night.

But Sanchez said with the crowds came all kinds of danger; drugs, prostitution and theft.

"I was close to leaving," Sanchez said.

He applauds the food suppliers efforts but said their big heart created big problems after they packed up and went back home.

"They want to do good work and it's a noble cause and we all feel warm and fuzzy when we go home but we have to clean up the mess," Tom Rivera with the Independence Plaza Neighborhood Council said. 

Their solution? Hire security-- which they say has worked.
       
City council member Scott Wagner's proposed solution?  He wants to govern all food suppliers, that go largely unmonitored now, with a new set of rules. Permits would be required, which Wagner argues would enforce food safety and encourage volunteers to get trained about the city's homeless.

But many volunteers see a $50 permit as a way for the city to shut down God's work for the poor.

"You're supposed to be here to represent the people but I challenge you to represent God first," Pastor Tony Caldwell with New Community United said in front of a packed council chambers. 

Dwight Hadley, who has lived homeless off and on since 1997, pleaded with council members.

"When someone wants to give let them give out of the kindness of their heart," he said.

If the full council approves the ordinance change on Thursday, the proposed ordinance would educate individual food suppliers on how to link the homeless with housing aid, job training and substance abuse treatment.
 
Permits, some argue, could weed some individual food suppliers out of the system so that more of the homeless would be driven to social service agencies and shelters that provide food as well as help to get off the streets.

The ordinance would go into effect in November.

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