Cared enough to share

Joe Jarosz
Northeast News
June 11, 2014

Committee members [from left] Melba Curls, Scott Wagner and Jermaine Reed listen to the communities response to the ordinance.

Committee members [from left] Melba Curls, Scott Wagner and Jermaine Reed listen to the communities response to the ordinance.

KANSAS CITY, Missouri — The city and its residents both made their cases Wednesday.

Now it’s up to the Kansas City City Council to decide whether or not to pass Ordinance number 140412, also known as the food sharing ordinance.

At last week’s council meeting, the item was tabled so more information could be shared to the public on the ordinance. On Wednesday, at the Neighborhoods, Housing and Healthy Communities Committee meeting, First District At-Large representative Scott Wagner gave a presentation on the ordinance, stating as best he could, what the ordinance does and doesn’t do for Kansas City. Councilwoman Melba Curls, chair of the committee, said it wasn’t the intention of the council and the committee that prepared the ordinance, the Public Safety and Emergency Services Committee, to deter anyone from helping others, specifically the homeless in Kansas City.

“Hopefully we can all be on the same page by the end,” Curls said.

The Presentation

Wagner began his presentation for the roughly 50 people in attendance by saying the ordinance came about in December 2012 when large homeless camps in Kessler Park in the Northeast were brought to his attention. Those camps included a variety of issues that neighborhood groups began to ask for action. Some of the issues identified, and which the ordinance would improve upon, included trash, unsafe environments and food safety concerns.

“Questions have arisen that it may happen it other parts of the country but it doesn’t happen in Kansas City,” Wagner said before explaining a slide on food borne illnesses that have been reported in Kansas City over the past 12 months. “When people say it can’t happen in Kansas City, well, yes it can.”

While discussing the current food code, Wagner said with this discussion, people have mistaken what is new and what is currently in the city’s food code. The current code states that a food establishment is defined as an operation that “stores, prepares, packages, serves, vends or otherwise provides food for human consumption” and an operation that is conducted “in a mobile, stationary, temporary or permanent facility…where consumption is on or off the premises and regardless of whether there is a charge for the food.”

“I want to stress to everyone here that [code] was here before the food sharing ordinance was ever introduced,” Wagner said. “Whether this ordinance passes or fails, these definitions are still there.”

Wagner then explained what the ordinance does and doesn’t do. According to the city, the ordinance does:

  • Create a new permit for food sharing organizations in order to comply with the city’s current food code
  • Put the city in a position to help resolve disputes that may occur between food sharing organizations and neighborhoods
  • Require identification of the source of prepared food and dates delivered on the container
  • Go into effect beginning Nov. 1, 2014, giving the city plenty of time to educate those who work with the homeless and underserved

The ordinance, Wager continued, does not:

  • Cost individuals to pay the city to help the homeless, or preclude them from helping the homeless
  • Tell organizations they can’t feed the homeless
  • Require the organizations to pay to have permits to feed the homeless
  • Apply to pre-purchased foods given to the homeless
  • Compel food sharing organizations to get individual food handler cards

Before turning the microphone over to those from the community who attended the meeting, Wagner also quickly described the fees — the food sharing permit would not have a fee — what happens if the ordinance fails — current codes and requirements for permits and food handling remain — and what, so far, has been gained because of the ordinance — greater efficiency in food sharing.

“If someone wants to suggest that the homeless could not get a meal because of this ordinance, they could get meals now and can get them in the future,” Wagner said.

The Response

During the public’s turn to address the committee and speak about the ordinance, those against the ordinance outnumbered its supporters. Current homeless people and representatives from various food sharing organizations, including the Salvation Army and Uplift Organization Inc., explained why they are against the ordinance. Many voiced their displeasure with the permits and how this ordinance seemed rushed without much community involvement.

Major Douglas Rowland of the Salvation Army said this ordinance is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. He pointed out that the Homelessness Task Force of Greater Kansas City doesn’t endorse this ordinance.

“This is not the way to handle the homeless issue,” Rowland said, adding he hopes the committee, and the city council, take into consideration how the community has responded to this issue.

The few who spoke in support of the ordinance said people are focusing on the wrong parts of the ordinance and that it would help provide order for organizations that distribute food. Zo Belcher, a client and representative of reStart Inc., an organization which provides housing and supportive services to help homeless men, women, youth, said the organization supports the ordinance.

“ReStart is about empowering,” Belcher said. “And what we want is to empower the safety of our food. We just want to make sure the food is getting served to the people healthy and safely.”

The ordinance next goes, again, before the city council for approval tomorrow, Thursday, June 12, at 3 p.m.

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