Proposed rules for feeding homeless on Parkway assailed

The cosmopolitan vista of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway advertises Philadelphia's cultural capital.

It also advertises the city's problem of homelessness.

In a contentious and often profane public hearing Thursday evening at the Municipal Services Building, the Public Health Department announced controversial plans to require permits and increase inspections of groups that serve food to the homeless on the Parkway.

"Unneeded red tape is bad policy and bad for public health," said Niko Rayer of Food Not Bombs, an organization that distributes food to the homeless on the Parkway. "We provide better and more consistent meals than shelters at no cost to the city."

Deputy Mayor Donald F. Schwarz, the city's health commissioner, disagreed, saying: "The goal of this regulation is to reeducate. This regulation is not a list of penalties."

Many in the standing-room-only audience saw the regulation as a way to sweep the homeless off the streets before the Barnes Foundation building opens in May.

"This is a pretext to get the homeless away so the tourists can't see them," Rayer said.

When Health Department official Palak Raval-Nelson introduced the resolution, a man yelled: "Who do you work for, the Barnes Foundation?"

Sam Little, president of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, was one of only two people who spoke in favor of the resolution. "We would like to see a place that is sheltered, comprehensive, and dignified. A warm, dry place." His response was met with skeptical snickers.

Board members said they would heed the concerns expressed at the meeting, and in writing over the next 30 days, and duly revise the regulation.

Contact staff writer Shaj Mathew at or @shaj10 on Twitter.