A photo taken of a man flipping a small banner on the edge of St. James’s Park in downtown San Jose sparked mass disgust and outrage on the Twittersphere against the city.
A sign on a pole warns: “It is prohibited to distribute food and clothing to the general public in a public park without city permission.”
The image went viral last month, as Twitter users visited the city to announce new signals about a two-decade-old law few people have heard of and continue to keep pace with during a devastating global pandemic and the cold winter months.
They described it as abhorrent and cruel, said it represented “Nimbe liberalism” and accused the city of trying to “eliminate the poor at every opportunity.” A handful of Twitter users even threatened to remove the banners or spray them with paint.
Although the rule affects all city parks, people found the signage particularly distasteful along St James’s Park, a prominent downtown green space that has become a gathering area for non-residential residents. City officials are trying to redesign it and turn it into a unique destination for residents and visitors.
So why did San Jose enact a policy in 2005 that prohibited the distribution of food and clothing in parks without a permit?
In a note from the time, then-Parks Director Sarah Hensley said that distributing food or clothing “does not constitute an appropriate event” for city parks.
Since organizers of other special events in the parks such as cultural celebrations, recreational activities, and children’s activities were required to obtain permits first, Hensley apparently concluded that food and clothing distribution events should be treated in the same way.
San Jose was not the only city to take this approach. Hayward, for example, also prohibits the distribution of food and clothing in its gardens without a permit. San Francisco generally doesn’t allow food or clothing to be served in parks, but it started letting established food banks pass on food under free emergency use permits when the pandemic hit.
Mountain View, Santa Clara, and Sunnyvale do not specifically require permits for food and clothing distribution events, but ask people to have one before hosting any event that attracts more than 50 people in the park.
During events held without permits, San Jose officials often receive complaints about people blocking sidewalks and roads and failing to clean up after themselves, according to Ed Bautista of the city’s Department of Parks. There are also concerns about the safety of the food being distributed.
“It’s not meant to be negative,” Bautista said of the rule. “We understand and empathize with the food insecurity affecting our community, but we want to find that balance for the park and for the entire community.”
To confirm his point, Bautista noted that the city issued a $187,000 grant to Open Doors in July 2019 to serve meals in a parking lot next to St. James’ Park on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
According to Bill Lee, CEO of Martha’s Regional Food Kitchen, San Jose’s concerns are valid. Lee often sees bags of food or clothing lying on the edges of city parks and roads by people who have good intentions but who, in his opinion, are doing the wrong thing.
“There is a lot of good humanity out there, but sometimes they don’t know how to help, or where to go or what to do,” he told me. “I would tell these people to come out to help organizations like us, and we’re going to get as many people as possible who are feeding in a clean, safe and efficient way.”
At the same time, Lee acknowledges that there are some non-residential residents who don’t always have access to the dining kitchen.
“This is not a black and white thing,” he said. “There are some people who would be negatively affected by this. But does it benefit more people? You could argue with that. Is this an acceptable moral? I’m not sure.”
Sugam Hamal, a 37-year-old man who became homeless last year after his release from prison, said he receives most of his food, blankets and clothes that keep him warm at night from organizations that provide services in and around Saint Petersburg. James Park.
“When I became homeless, I didn’t know where to seek help,” he said, adding that he felt his options were limited because he was an illegal immigrant. “So I am just grateful to these people. At least you have food and clothes and you don’t have to worry about that.”
Signs have long been displayed in most of the city’s popular parks with a long list of the best park rules drawn up by officials. But then, several months before the outbreak of the epidemic, the city divided its food and clothing distribution list into separate labels.
Bautista said the new signs, like the ones along East St.
For years, anyone wishing to host an event in a city park was required to obtain a private park use permit, which would cost individuals or organizations up to $500. However, the city recently started offering a cheaper “activity pass” specifically for food and clothing distribution events.
“We’ve tried to reduce the cost to make sure that people can do it right,” Bautista said. “The intent is really to help people do it legally and safely, and then give them public health information about providing the best food and so on.”
This explanation does not dampen the indignation of some residents and defenders of the homeless, who see the politics as “disgusting”, “vile” and “inhuman”.
A man known as Batman from San Jose, who wears an elaborate Batman costume and visits homeless communities in the city to distribute food, water and clothing, said he just heard about the rule last month and was “actively against it.”
“It’s blatantly clear that they want to dissuade people from staying and gathering there (in St James’ Park) because the city of San Jose believes that a public park is more important than a human life – even in the event of an epidemic,” he said. “