BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Two Christian ministries in Alabama are dismayed at the actions of local law enforcement after they were recently stopped from feeding the homeless due to a new ordinance centering around food trucks.
“I’m just so totally shocked that the city is turning their back on the homeless like this,” Pastor Rick Wood told local television station WBMA. “It’s like they want to chase them out of the city. And the homeless can’t help the position they’re in. They need help.”
Wood, who pastors The Lord’s House of Prayer in Oneonta, has been feeding the poor and homeless in Birmingham every Saturday for the past six years. He delivers hot dogs and bottled water from a truck that features a decal citing Matthew 25:35-40, which speaks of Jesus’ command to care for the hungry.
However, Wood says that he was approached by Birmingham police two weeks ago as he was conducting an outreach in Linn Park and was told to cease operations because he did not have a permit. The cost for a permit, which must be obtained from the Health Department, is between $300 and $500.
Reports state that police had referred to an ordinance surrounding food trucks, which was enacted when area restaurants complained that some vendors were taking away their business. The new law, which was passed in December, regulates when and where food trucks can park. It mentions nothing of meals that are distributed for free to the homeless.
“That makes me so mad,” Wood stated. “These people are hungry. They’re starving. They need help from people. They can’t afford to buy something from a food truck.”
Don Williams of Bridge Builders Ministries told reporters that he was likewise shut down by police recently for the same reason.
“[A] week ago we were serving about 75 homeless people, and Birmingham police showed up and starting barking orders that this food service be shut down,” he explained. “I thought, ‘Is this America or is this Russia?’ We are here serving people who for the most part can’t do it for themselves.”
Birmingham Mayor William Bell is upholding the new law and its application to the ministries, stating that organization and consistency are important, including in regard to feeding the hungry.
“What’s the quality of that hot dog? Where did it come from?” he asked. “We want everybody to meet the need of the homeless, but there has to be some consistency.”
But Wood and Williams state that they are going to fight the ordinance and will continue to feed the homeless without a permit.
“If we don’t [fight it], the government will be empowered to run over us just like they have been on a national level,” Williams said. “And I’m just not going to sit down, play dead and roll over.”