On November 4th, the Kansas City, MO Health Department sent police to confiscate food that was to be distributed to homeless people, throwing it in trash bags and pouring bleach on it to make it inedible, Fox 32 reports. The food, including homemade chili, sandwiches, and soup, was being distributed by the organization Free Hot Soup KC (FHS KC), a group that hands out free supplies and food to the homeless.
The Health Department cracked down on the volunteers in a coordinated sting, saying that the group was putting people in danger by distributing the food without a permit. The shut down effort included several police cars and a helicopter, according to KCTV 5.
“E. coli or salmonella or listeria can grow in the food,” department director Rex Archer told Fox. “And then you give that to homeless people who are more vulnerable, they will end up in the ER and even die from that exposure.”
Mayor Sly James tweeted his agreement. “Rules are there to protect the public’s health, and all groups must follow them, no exceptions,” he said.
Volunteers pointed out that birthday parties or barbecues on public property aren’t often policed in this way.
The Health Department said in a tweeted statement that they had received “multiple complaints” about FHS KC. One of the volunteers told KCTV that the complaints were made by people unhappy with the homeless gathering in the North Blue Ridge neighborhood. A community meeting agenda found by KCTV shows an item concerning “unsanitary” conditions in the area including homeless camps that “have infiltrated the neighborhood.” A list of action steps began with “Remove Free Soup KC from the park.”
“The food is not kept at required temperatures for food safety,” the Health Department claimed in their statement. “KCHD will be trying to work with the organizers in the coming days.”
Despite the altercation on the 4th, and threats of ticketing, this Sunday, FHS KC were out in the parks again, distributing food as usual, though they were now sticking mostly to packaged food. There were no encounters with the authorities, but the volunteers had an attorney on hand just in case.
This year in Florida, a similar case involving free food sharing by anarchist group Food Not Bombs went to federal court, where the volunteers feeding the homeless argued that they were protected by the First Amendment and won.