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Little Rock city directors table controversial homeless feeding ordinance

A controversial ordinance aimed at limiting the number of times homeless advocacy groups can feed the homeless in Little Rock public parks, was tabled until July at the Little Rock board of directors meeting on Tuesday. (Photo: KATV)

A controversial ordinance aimed at limiting the number of times homeless advocacy groups can feed the homeless in Little Rock public parks, was tabled until July at the Little Rock board of directors meeting on Tuesday.

City director Dean Kumpuris motioned to table the item before Tuesday's board meeting got underway, with a feeling that some "best practices" could be implemented. A homeless task force is expected to study the issue further and seek consensus from the numerous homeless outreach programs in Little Rock.

The ordinance was only up for a first reading on Monday and had already been amended from its draft form. The ordinance, which targets "large group feedings" - defined as feeding 25 or more people for free in a public park - set a limit of two public feedings per year, per organization, originally. Each organization would have to apply for a permit for each "feeding," 30 days prior to each feeding, with a permit fee of $25 and a deposit of $500. City officials would amend that to up the number of annual feedings to six and reduce the deposit fee to $100.

Sandra Wilson, founder of the Arkansas Homeless Coalition, said she doesn't view tabling the ordinance as a victory for homeless advocates. Wilson said she believes the ordinance should be off the table - end of story.

Wilson questioned, "Since when do people have to pay to go out and share food with other people?"

City director Kathy Webb, also executive director of the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, said she was out of town when the idea for the ordinance was initially floated last week. Webb said she didn't like the way the ordinance was written, yet said she understands the concerns being voiced particularly by the downtown business community about the city's apparently growing homeless population. Webb is hopeful this ordinance will finally foster long overdue dialogue between homeless advocacy groups and the city to try and actually come up with a plan to help address homelessness.

"You have a lot of people who are not interested in talking anymore, but getting things done," said Webb. "I'm interested in getting things done."

Dozens had showed up to Tuesday's city board meeting in protest of the proposed ordinance. Instead of chanting, homeless advocates fed the homeless on the steps of city hall. Protestors said they'll be back when the issue goes back before the board of directors in July.

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