Recent news about the City requiring permits from well-meaning groups to continue feeding the homeless have left the impression that the City is somewhat insensitive to the needs of our fellow residents without addresses. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, the permit requirement ensures the safe handling and distribution of food for the protection of the consumers, including those exposed to homelessness. Every City public celebration, street fair and Heritage Day requires food vendors to file for such permits. The only difference is the volunteer groups feeding the homeless get their permit for free.
One benefit of these permits is that the City can quickly and efficiently track the source of food should people fall ill and take appropriate measures.
The City is also concerned with the overall health and welfare of our homeless residents. We're asking these groups to not centralize their efforts around Penn Station, but to connect coordinate and partner with our 23 homeless shelters and 55 food pantries and soup kitchens throughout the City.
This way, these groups can feed our homeless in places where shelter, social services and mental health outreach are available. We strongly believe this approach is a better path to transition our unsheltered residents into permanent housing. Encouraging them to congregate for food in a place such as the Penn Station area where no such services are available only contributes to their day-to-day existence.
We consider these neighborhood settings to also be far safer for our unsheltered population. The area around Penn Station is congested with car and bus traffic and has proven to be dangerous for people who have mental and physical health problems.
Our record on caring for the homeless is commendable. Could we do better? Yes, and we will keep trying until we eradicate homelessness. But any news concerning Newark's relationship with the homeless should include the following:
Creating homes and providing services for our fellow residents without addresses is a proven top priority of my administration. Here in Newark, we meet these challenges with compassion, sensitivity and unbridled efforts to preserve their dignity. Any words to the contrary are disingenuous and do not illustrate the complete picture.