After correspondence with attorneys from the Alliance Defense Fund, the San Diego Department of Parks and Recreation abandoned a proposed program Thursday which would have required a homeless outreach, after several years of serving the poor at Mission Bay Park, to relocate to a dirt lot with a cramped, fenced-in area resembling a cage.
"The city's neediest residents and the Christian ministries who serve them should not be singled out for discriminatory treatment by city park officials," said ADF Litigation Staff Counsel Heather Gebelin Hacker. "The act of providing food to the hungry fulfills a religious duty to serve the poor and communicates a Christian message of love and mercy, and these activities are protected by the First Amendment. We are pleased that the situation has been resolved favorably and that the city did the right thing by choosing to let these vital services to the poor continue."
In a letter sent to San Diego Department of Parks and Recreation Director Stacey LoMedico last November, Hacker wrote, "The city's treatment of its neediest residents as animals that need to be confined and caged for their 'feedings' is deplorable and is more appropriate for the residents of the San Diego Zoo than it is for human beings. There is absolutely no evidence that the ministries' activities have increased crime or litter or have had any negative impact on the park whatsoever."
Nearly every day, the participating ministries provide food, hot coffee, Bible study, religious materials, spiritual counsel, and job counseling to the homeless. Last October, the Department of Parks and Recreation announced a new policy in a letter and at a public meeting that the ministries would be prohibited from conducting their "feedings" at Mariner's Point in Mission Bay Park and would instead be required to move three miles away to the fenced-in, cage-like area adjacent to a busy road.
The ministries objected to this location and also expressed concern to the city because the new area has no bus service and is inaccessible to the handicapped and many other outreach participants. They also noted that the 60-minute time frame the city planned to mandate would make it very difficult to provide services.
After correspondence with ADF attorneys, San Diego City Deputy Attorney Kimberly Ann Davies communicated to Hacker Thursday that it had re-evaluated its program and decided not to implement it. Davies also thanked the homeless ministries for their service to the community, which they will be allowed to continue at Mariner's Point.
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