INDIANAPOLIS – A new proposal introduced by City-County Councilor Michael-Paul Hart is being met with backlash from area groups that support some of Indy’s most vulnerable population.
Under Proposal 291, donors would be required to register with the city if they want to distribute charitable goods, including items from clothing to food, or other consumer goods, on a public street or property in Indianapolis.
The proposal applies to charitable distributions handed out to 10 or more people in a single setting, and donors would be required to register no later than 48 hours prior.
Donors would need to submit their registration to the Office of Public Health and Safety and include, among other information, their name and where the distribution will take place.
“We’re looking to do everything with the right intentions and try to make an approach better for those receiving it and more systematic for those doing it,” said Hart.
He shared, “I’m doing what I was elected to do, which is represent the community I serve.”
“People came to me and said “Mike, I know there are a lot of individuals doing a good thing and there are some unintended consequences that are coming with that,’” he said. “Those unintended consequences they were referring to, you know, trash and litter and unwanted waste that are from those distributions.”
Hart said in addition to providing a safe and clean environment for charitable distributions, the proposal would allow coordination with public health officials to ensure safe food practices.
“In a time of COVID and contact tracing going on it’s very important that we are able to track any type of distribution – not only ones that are food – not only for COVID but for food-borne illnesses and anything else,” said Hart.
According to the proposal, the first violation by a donor would result in a warning, but they could receive a civil penalty for any following violations.
Originally, the proposal included a $500 static fine for anyone who violated the ordinance, but that fine has since been removed.
Hart said many businesses and organizations have already expressed support for the proposal. Some wrote letters, which are attached to the proposal.
The proposal was set to be discussed Wednesday night at the public safety and criminal justice committee meeting.
If it passes Wednesday, the proposal would go to full council in December.
RESPONSE FROM OUTREACH GROUPS:
Groups that help with outreach to Indy’s homeless and poor say the new proposal would make it difficult to provide resources to those who need it most.
“It will be an undue burden on those of us who serve the homeless, the poor, the impoverished here in Indianapolis,” said Elder Coleman, one of the coordinators for the Alliance for Homeless Transformation.
Coleman said instead of looking for solutions, the city is looking to penalize people under this ordinance.
“I oppose this proposal because it says to Hoosiers that we don’t have a right to care for fellow Hoosiers,” said Coleman.
“We certainly don’t want to penalize people from loving one another and having that humanely expression of faith and kindness,” said Tiffanie Ditlevson, Senior Vice Commander at the Ernie Pyle VFW Post.
Coleman said, “I tell people all the time registries are typically done for criminals. Why would you make organizations have to register for book bag giveaways, food giveaways?”
Coleman said his organization feeds on average 180 people daily. He said that number can be anywhere up to 230 people a day, a significant increase from the 55 to 60 they used to serve daily.
“I know that the councilor said it would not negatively affect various giveaways but if we’re standing on the sidewalk and we don’t know how many people to expect – say 100 people show up – we would be in jeopardy of being cited,” said Coleman.
He said in nearly 23 years of doing this work, he has never seen so many people facing homelessness on the streets of Indianapolis.
“For me this is detrimental especially coming from a city that has prided itself, you know, Indianapolis and Minneapolis have for many years been number one and number two in volunteer service and taking care of people,” said Coleman, “for us to now take a different turn and say we don’t want you to help people unless you do it under these certain rules and guidelines is disingenuous to tell people that this is not targeting a certain group.”
Coleman said his organization, and others alike, take pride in making sure that after every mealtime there are cleanup crews to ensure the property is the same way it was when they arrived. “All of the groups that serve through the Alliance for Homeless Transformation including Hearts and Hands, Meet Me Under the Bridge, all of us have our own cleanup crews after each meal.”
“I think that when we’re trying to find solutions for populations that we don’t live in it’s very difficult and I think that if we’re really trying to understand the need for distributing resources to folks, we really need to spend time and walk in their shoes,” said Ditlevson.
Both Coleman and Ditlevson said being able to be out in the community and helping vulnerable Hoosiers is something that they need the ability to do every day.
“I think if we don’t understand what the life is like it’s gonna be really difficult to pass resolutions and policies that affect them,” said Ditlevson.
“Michael-Paul Hart is a friend of mine but right now we’re in disagreement,” said Coleman. “I think he’s a great guy. I think he’s a future leader to watch but he’s on the wrong side of history and he’s on the wrong side of compassion.”
Hart said he has a data sheet that shows the benefits of the proposal and believes there are far more benefits to protecting the health of people experiencing homelessness, as well as organizing distributions and creating a communication channel from the city to the donors.
“I believe there is compassion for positive change to come out of it. We do disagree on this one,” said Hart.