Citizens Ticketed for Feeding Homeless People in Atlanta to be Defended by the Southern Center for Human Rights

13th December, 2017

(ATLANTA) On the Sunday before Thanksgiving, two Atlanta-based activists who have long been distributing food to the homeless in public parks were cited for allegedly violating a county ordinance requiring a permit to distribute food. Available resources to feed the homeless are especially scarce on weekends, when shelters are often full. The lack of available space makes street feeding the simplest and most effective way to get food to homeless people in Atlanta.  

“They’re trying to make downtown as inhospitable for homeless people as possible,” says Adele MacLean, who received both a citation and a court summons on November 19, 2017. “They hope that if they can make it uncomfortable, it will force homeless people to go elsewhere. We believe everyone should be welcome downtown, and that includes people who have the least.”

MacLean, who is represented by the Southern Center for Human Rights, is due in court on December 14, 2017. She was cited for a violation of Atlanta Municipal Code Sec. 86-2, a provision that incorporates a Georgia regulation requiring all “temporary food service establishments” to apply for and display a permit.  But the state rule applies to commercial “events” or “celebrations” where food service is “sponsored” or “organized” by “a for-profit entity.” The state rules do not require religious groups or citizens in Atlanta, or any other place in the state of Georgia, to seek government permission before giving free food to hungry people.  Nevertheless, Atlanta’s Department of Public Safety produced a flyer, which was then distributed by the Georgia State Police, inexplicably suggesting that the commercial permit scheme applies to feeding the homeless.

MacLean’s group was previously a plaintiff in Richardson v. City of Atlanta, a 1997 lawsuit where the group successfully asserted its right to feed the homeless in federal court.  Again in 2003, both the City of Atlanta and the Georgia State Police agreed that the very regulations at issue here did not apply to feeding the homeless.

“Our jails are already full of homeless and hungry people,” said Akiva Freidlin, attorney at the Southern Center for Human Rights and Co-Counsel for MacLean.  “Yet for some reason, the City of Atlanta has chosen to bring criminal charges against those who share their food with others.”

“It is cruel beyond measure to press criminal charges against citizens and religious groups who are trying to help feed the homeless in their time of need,” said Gerry Weber, Counsel for MacLean. “Since the closure of the Taskforce for the Homeless facility at Peachtree and Pine, and the lack of any significant gap-filling by the City of Atlanta, homeless people are left out in the cold and hungry.”

The Southern Center for Human Rights has sent a letter to Councilwoman & Mayor-Elect Keisha Lance Bottoms, expressing “hope that under the next administration, Atlanta will become known as a place where all people are met with generosity, compassion, and fellowship—regardless of whether or not their neighbors have applied for a permit.”