California city considers ban on feeding homeless on public streets, sidewalks, parking lots

A California city is considering a controversial measure that would limit the places where the homeless can get food.

If passed, handing out food in Lancaster would be banned on public streets, sidewalks, parking lots and other city-owned property.

Supporters say the measure will cut down on trash and public nuisance, but critics claim it will make it harder to feed the homeless and could even put their lives in jeopardy.

Lancaster Mayor Rex Parris and homeless advocates faced off in a contentious meeting Tuesday night that at times broke down into shouting matches.

Rex Parris, the Lancastor mayor, and homeless advocates faced off in a contentious meeting Tuesday night that at times broke down into shouting matches.

Rex Parris, the Lancastor mayor, and homeless advocates faced off in a contentious meeting Tuesday night that at times broke down into shouting matches.

"A lot of people would come to eat, the people feeding them would leave and the mess would be left behind," Parris said. "We're talking about people defecating in the entryways of the business. It became a public health problem."

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Homeless advocates claim the proposed fees and fines would dramatically scale back on volunteers who have helped feed the homeless in the past.

Derrick Chambers checks out a homeless encampment in an open area of Southern part of Lancaster while documenting their number in the area. 

Derrick Chambers checks out a homeless encampment in an open area of Southern part of Lancaster while documenting their number in the area.  (LA Times via Getty)

"Don't penalize my people for going to feed people because we don't follow your organization or rules," one advocate said. His comments were met with applause in the meeting.

Another homeless advocate told the mayor and other city leaders that the ban is "not only punitive against the hungry but it's even punitive against the people trying to help the homeless."

Michael Ouimet, a Navy veteran who has been homeless for 11 years, told ABC7 that meals are already difficult to find if you're living on the streets and that the proposed measure could make it impossible.

"You never really know where you're going to get your next meal from," he said.

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Following the hearing, city officials set up a committee to work with nonprofits to study the issue. It is unclear how long the "study" would last or how much it would cost.

A quarter of the nation's homeless people live in California. The crisis has hit hard in large cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland, but smaller cities and towns across the state are also seeing an uptick in their homeless population.