El Cajon drops ban on feeding homeless after arrests spark international outrage
The city of El Cajon, which found itself under an international spotlight because of a ban on feeding the homeless, lifted the temporary order on Tuesday.
City officials enacted the ban on sharing food in city parks in October as a safety measure after the San Diego County Board of Supervisors declared the region’s growing hepatitis A outbreak a public health emergency.
On Tuesday, the county ended its health emergency declaration and the city of El Cajon followed suit.
“We’re happy that the hep A emergency is over,” said El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells. “As we always said, the ban was lifted the moment we were aware of that.”
Critics called El Cajon’s ban a punitive measure meant to dehumanize and criminalize the homeless and in protest staged several food-sharing events at one of the city’s most popular parks, Wells Park near downtown.
National and international media, including the BBC, picked up on the story after volunteers distributing food earlier this month in defiance of the ban were arrested. Much of the attention it brought to the East County city of nearly 100,000 was unflattering.
Activist Mark Lane of a group called Break the Ban was one of dozens of people who gave away food in Wells Park several times in spite of the ban. Lane and 10 others were cited with misdemeanor charges for violating city code.
Lane said lifting the ban was good news for the homeless and people who want to help them.
“The groups that had been sharing food regularly with the homeless will be able to go back and do that again and that’s a great thing,” said Lane, who maintained that the ban was unconstitutional in the first place motivated by an attempt to drive the homeless away.
Lane said he and other protesters believe that El Cajon “very clearly has a plan to move the homeless out of their city in order to not have to give services to them.”
Shane Parmely, another advocate for the homeless, said she felt the ban was the latest in “a series of ordinances that criminalize homeless residents of El Cajon. It’s still illegal for a homeless person to lay down and try to sleep.”
Wells said the issue of homelessness is “the most important issue that our region faces,” and even though the reaction to the ban put El Cajon in “an uncomfortable situation, … it got people talking about it.”
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