CREDIT: Daniel Zampogna, PennLive
A group of church volunteers who have fed homeless people for years in central Pennsylvania are being barred from handing out food in a public parking lot.
Since 2006, approximately 25 churches from in and around Harrisburg have convened in the parking lot of a county courthouse twice a week to serve hot meals to over 100 homeless people in the area. The need is greater now than ever. According to Bethesda Mission executive director Chuck Wingate, whose church is among those serving the needy, homelessness in the Harrisburg area has increased 60 percent since they began serving food.
But local Harrisburg officials objected to something as unobjectionable as feeding the hungry.
Last week, the Dauphin County Courthouse informed the volunteers that, after seven years, they were no longer welcome to serve food in their parking lot. County officials cited complaints from nearby Citizens Bank, which said homeless people had harassed their workers and used their ATM as a bathroom.
The county has said it will try to find an alternative location for the church groups to hand out meals, but one has yet to spring up. Unless they find a new permanent location soon, organizers fear the entire operation may unravel. Indeed, Bethesda Mission has already said it will suspend its work until a new a non-temporary spot can be secured. Though organizers had hoped to expand their service to three nights a week before last week’s development, they may now have to shrink to just one night a week if more groups drop out.
Because of its central location and open atmosphere, the courthouse parking lot had been a great location, explained Glad Tidings Assembly of God outreach director Liesa Burwell-Perry. In addition, as PennLive notes, homeless people are often “more receptive to services that come to them, like these street ministries.”
Harrisburg isn’t the only city that has made life difficult for groups trying to feed the homeless. Last month, the Raleigh Police Department threatened a Christian organization for handing out food in the park without a permit, even though they had been doing so without issue for years.