SAN JOSE (KRON) — A confrontation between church and state looms in the City of San Jose, which, like most large cities, is dealing with chronic homelessness.
There is a crackdown coming on efforts to feed the homeless at a popular downtown park.
Homeless people come to St. James Park because they can often find a hot meal provided by church groups. But soon, the city will try to put a stop to that as part of a plan it says will be better for the homeless and make the park more accessible to everyone.
Beginning in early August, San Jose police, which can often be seen patrolling St. James Park, will begin enforcing an ordinance that bans the illegal distribution of food, much of which is provided by church groups, like the one led by long-time homeless advocate Pastor Scott Wagers.
“This ordinance has been on the books for years, but it hasn’t been enforced, so it shows that the city is upping the ante, but if they don’t offer an alternative that will appease the churches, there is going to be a battle between church and state,” Wagers said.
St. James Park is a regular stop for Wagers’ Mercy Mobile, which delivers food and clothing to homeless camps around town.
Wagers says the crackdown further demonizes the homeless and makes him out to be a criminal.
“What the Mercy Mobile does is follow the homeless, not vice versa,” Wagers said. “‘That logic is faulty,’ people keep telling me. ‘You keep feeding them, and they keep coming.’ No, they are coming to me. They’re already here.”
Amid complaints from other park users and neighbors about food waste and the lack of proper sanitation, the crackdown will be preceded by visits from police, who will direct the park’s homeless visitors to alternatives food sources, away from the park.
But after Aug. 5, violators will be cited.
“I do understand that the city is trying to crackdown and trying to find a place to feed the homeless that is safe for everybody, but the problem is, if they shut down the park, the homeless are just going to fan out into the surrounding neighborhoods,” Wagers said.
A spokesman for the city commends Pastor Wagers for his service to the homeless and says the city is working to partner with church groups to find ways to feed the homeless, just not at the park.
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