A temporary injunction blocking the city from enforcing Mayor Michael Nutter’s ban on feeding the homeless outdoors is disappointing, Nutter told reporters Thursday, after a federal judge said homeless advocates could keep serving outdoor meals while the court studied the matter.
“Certainly, we are disappointed,” Nutter told reporters at a press conference in the corridor outside his office, adding that the injunction was a “preliminary, preliminary” ruling and that in the end, he hoped the judge would side with the administration.
U.S. District Judge William H. Yohn issued the injunction Thursday, saying it would stay in place until he issued a final ruling.
The injunction came after Yohn heard two days of testimony, some from Nutter himself — as homeless advocates tried to get the court to permanently set aside Nutter’s ban.
Asked if the city would appeal any judicial ruling against enforcement, the mayor deferred to City Solicitor Shelley Smith, who said it was far too early to discuss that possibility.
“We’re not there yet,” Smith said.
The mayor issued the ban on outdoor serving in March, and the city started enforcing it on June 1. It provoked four groups — Chosen 300 Ministries, the Welcome Church, the King’s Jubilee and Philly Restart — to sue.
The mayor has characterized the ban as a way to draw the homeless to indoor facilities and places where, he said, they can receive more comprehensive assistance.
“We are not deterred at all in our efforts to meet the many challenges that people face when they are homeless,” the mayor said.
Opponents have characterized it as a way for the administration to keep the homeless away from the museum district at a time when the new Barnes Foundation was opening along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway — and as an infringement on religious freedom.
According to the Rev. Brian Jenkins, pastor of Chosen 300 Ministries, the policy was a violation of civil rights.
“Separate but equal was abolished in 1954,” he told Council members in April as he pressed members to stand against the ban.
Nutter said his concerns are primarily for the health and welfare of the homeless, but that he felt large scale feeding along the parkway was inappropriate — and he stuck to that position this week.
“Because of the amount of trash and debris and often leftover food, unfortunately, sometimes public defecation and urination … that causes almost the inability of the many other people who wish to use that space of utilizing it,” he said.
Yohn made it clear this week that he planned to block the ban for at least a year in order to give the city and advocates a chance to work out a solution without the court.
When first confronted with opposition to his ban, Nutter appointed a task force on feeding the homeless. Hopes are that the task force will develop a plan to encourage those who are hungry and current outdoor servers to move indoors.
Nutter said this week that he expected the group’s report within the 30 to 60 days and that it would be used as a “basis on how we move forward.”