San Jose advocates say outdated permit requirement hinders helping feed the homeless

Many South Bay homeless advocates are questioning an old San Jose ordinance that is still on the books. Under the ordinance, a permit is required to distribute food and clothes to unhoused residents.

"I think it’s a way to make things harder. As if things aren’t hard enough for the homeless, already, and their advocates," said Pastor Scott Wagers of CHAM Deliverance Ministry.

An average sign posted in Saint James Park in San Jose is generating a groundswell of opposition. The sign says handing out food and clothing to unhoused residents is illegal, unless you have a permit.

Nearly five years ago, resident complaints about trash from feeding the unhoused prompted the city to threaten enforcement of the 2005 ordinance.

"They have to put a stop to it. I know it’s hard for them, but they do have to stop it," resident Gilbert Chacon said in July of 2017.

The city has not issued citations and fines, but has left the signs up. And it still requires a permit of at least $50.

"Many people feel like they need to do something good for the community. And we want to help them do that. But we want to properly help them do that," said city spokesman Ed Bautista.

He said the fee helps insure food is healthy and safe to eat. And that trash is removed.

"Help design designated area that’s more conducive to doing something like this," Bautista said.

Some political scientists said government partnerships with third parties to solve problems such as food insecurity are common. But permits to accomplish this can be counterproductive.

"It’s also something that really comes at the discretion of bureaucrats. And doesn’t come at the discretion of solving a public policy problem," said Dr. David McCuan, a political scientist at Cal State University in Sonoma County.

At least one advocate said he’ll continue helping and ignoring the ordinance.

"We need all the help we can get. Don’t make it harder on us. Because we’re not going to pay that fine," said Wagers.

Tuesday afternoon, the city’s website has a posting which said "Special Parks Use Permits is pausing new permit issuance."

Officials say this is a mistake and that they’re working to fix the verbiage.

The permits are still required, and to date, no one has been cited for not having a permit.