Food ban protestors cleared of charges, continue feeding homeless

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Food Not Bombs volunteers providing food and needed items to the homeless 2.jpg

“It is my belief that dismissing the charges is appropriate in the furtherance of justice; there is no longer a need to attempt to obtain compliance with Ordinance No. 5066 in light of this automatic repeal,” reads the letter sent by Morgan L. Foley, City Attorney with the City of El Cajon on February 26 and addressed to Robert S. Dreher, the lead attorney hired by a dozen of the protesters arrested on June 14 for violating the city’s ban to share food with the homeless. 

“It is my belief that dismissing the charges is appropriate in the furtherance of justice; there is no longer a need to attempt to obtain compliance with Ordinance No. 5066 in light of this automatic repeal,” reads the letter sent by Morgan L. Foley, City Attorney with the City of El Cajon on February 26 and addressed to Robert S. Dreher, the lead attorney hired by a dozen of the protesters arrested on June 14 for violating the city’s ban to share food with the homeless. 

Ever Rose Parmely-Den Herder is only 14-years-old and among the volunteers arrested along with mother, Shane Parmely. 

“I found out because other people who were cited posted on Facebook about the charges being dropped,” Shane Parmely said. 

Later on, Parmely and the others received an email from attorney Dreher. They claimed there is no surprise the charges were dropped, as this is “the only logical thing to do.” 

“The bottom line is that homelessness is still criminalized in El Cajon,” Parmely said, explaining how people without homes are trapped in the justice system: “Anyone who is cited for ‘camping’ because they are sleeping on the streets ends up with a ticket they can’t pay. They are funneled into the criminal justice system and when they encounter police in the future and have a warrant out for their arrest for failing to pay the ticket or failure to appear in court, El Cajon ends up funneling their homeless residents into the for-profit jails in San Diego County.“ 

As none of these jails are located in El Cajon, Parmely said other communities have to take care of these persons.

“When the person is eventually released, El Cajon has managed to foist their responsibility of providing services onto the communities hosting the jails,” said Parmely.  

Citing Dave Myers, a candidate for the county’s sheriff office, as the source for their data, Parmely pointed out that 26 percent of San Diego’s inmates are jailed due to homelessness.  

“It costs over $70K a year to house a person in jail,” said Parmely. “When cities funnel people into the jails they avoid taking financial responsibility for those people because the County has to pick up the bill.“ 

Parmely said she believes the solution is for all the cities in San Diego county “to reexamine their laws and rescind laws that criminalize homeless and poor people.”  

Parmely is currently working with other volunteers from the organization Food Not Bombs to address the criminalization of homelessness with the local administration. 

The food ban was decided 5-0 by the city council of El Cajon back in October of last year, following the Hepatitis A outbreak that started over a year ago. Many accused the council members of politicizing poverty and practicing “not in my backyard” policies when condemning food sharing, panhandling, sleeping on the street and in parked vehicles. Food Not Bombs started sharing food in El Cajon after the ban and twelve of the volunteers were arrested on Jan. 14 in a move that brought the council members and mayor Bill Wells on the front page in national and international news. 

Without a food ban in place, dropping the charges was an expected move, but it also fueled the creation of a Food Not Bombs chapter in El Cajon that now provides food, clothing and hygiene products weekly. The day after the news of the charges being dropped, the newly formed chapter gathered at Wells Park in El Cajon with portable tables, pans and pots filled with homemade food, piles of clothes and other items much needed by the people without homes. The event drew little media attention and one of the organizers, Jose Cortez, blamed it on the fact that there is not any scandal surrounding the act of feeding the homeless. 

“It’s not super sexy for TV when there’s just happy people hanging out with each other,” he said.

The event on Saturday, Mar. 3, was nothing like the one leading to the arrests, when dozens of volunteers, cameras, police officers, and curious witnesses consumed the park. But Saturday’s attendance included only a handful of volunteers and about 15-20 people who stopped by to receive a helping of the rice, beans and sausages, stuffing, bagels, fruits and water being offered. 

 

None of these new volunteers have been arrested and most of them are very new with the organization. Christine Dean came on board two months ago, motivated, he said, by the desire to be a better person. 

“I want to help others, makes me feel good,” he said. “Food is a basic right. People deserve to live.”  

Elisa Chavez joined about the same time, attracted by the “anti-war, anti-poverty” creed of the organization. Chavez said she thinks the food ban was political. 

“It’s a cover up for the fact that they don’t want homeless people in their neighborhood and towns,” she said. “They want the corporations to come and gentrify everything. They don’t want these people to exist.” 

Cortez, who has been with Food Not Bombs for half a year and is also an organizer with the local Party of Socialism and Liberation, shares Chavez’s opinion about gentrification. 

“Homelessness is definitely tied to politics and the kind of policies San Diego and other cities have been putting in effect,” said Cortez, “like pushing out homeless folks, gentrification, raising the rents and making it impossible for people to live here, all while wages are not going up.”

Cortez said that the city of El Cajon has the resources to take care of the homeless if it should reevaluate its priorities. 

“Maybe they could sell that stupid tank they have and all the other superfluous militarized police spending they have,” he said. “Just our overwhelming lust for war which has consumed trillions of dollars within the last decade could have been easily used hundreds of times over to cover programs we would need here, like helping people with food, health insurance and college.”

Next Saturday and every Saturday from now on, Food Not Bombs will provide food and other needed items to the homeless at Wells Park in El Cajon at 4 p.m. 

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