Phila. City Council Testimony

What follows is what I plan on saying to Philadelphia City Council on Thursday afternoon, May 31, 2012, one day before Mayor Nutter’s decrees banning outdoor serving of the homeless is supposed to go into effect.

Hello. Thank you for allowing me to speak. My name is Cranford Joseph Coulter. I am the founder and director of The King’s Jubilee. We have been serving the poor and homeless nearly every week on the streets of Philadelphia for over 23 years. I have been told that I make the best soup on the parkway. I do receive a few complaints about how hot it is. I remind the folks that that is for their safety.

During the Rendell years, we were harassed and investigated. On at least three occasions, undercover police investigated us. They caught us on their surveillance cameras cleaning up the Love Park. You see, when I was in Girl Scouts, I learned to leave a place cleaner than what you found it, so we always clean up after what the business box lunch and latte’ crowd leave behind, as well as any other tourists. Mayor Rendell had the attitude that the homeless are like stray dogs: if you stop feeding them, they will go to someone else’s city.

I told him on at least three occasions that no one is on the street because the food is so good. It is the other way ’round. We are there, because they are there. Rendell started this meme that the Convention Center failed because people were afraid to come to center city because of the homeless. No one ever thought to be afraid of the homeless, until Fast Eddy suggested it. Insufficient parking, no public restrooms open after 5 pm, badly negotiated union contracts, none of these could have been to blame for the Convention Center losing money, because they were things that he should have thought of before he started to build the thing. Anyway, we know no one visits New York City because of all the homeless there. I mean there’s a naked cowboy in Times Square! The place is desolate!

Now Mayor Nutter is repeating the same meme with an added twist. He is claiming that it hurts him to see his fellow Black men being fed with such indignity. Well he is the one who wants to herd them into a dusty, toxic feed lot like so much cattle. He keeps referring to what we all do as “feeding” them, as if they were livestock or infants. We serve the homeless people and poor people. They feed themselves. We also provide spiritual counsel, prayer, friendship, connection when they move off of the street. We grieve with them when they lose loved ones. We grieve over them when we lose them. The Mayor does not really see these people at all. He only sees their clothes. And it is their clothes that he does not approve of.

His decrees violate basic human rights. They violate the Bill of Rights of the Constitution. They violate the 14th Amendment. They violate the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Yet, I have been told that this body feels powerless to stop him in his quest to oppress the poor and those who would continue to serve them; that the City Charter spells out separation of powers. We can’t have city council doing the mayor’s job, too. Well, it seems to me that the mayor has violated the spirit of the document and maybe the letter, too, by doing the council’s job of legislating on the matter, and not just regulating based on existing ordinances.

I was told by one of your lawyers and by others that this hearing today is basically a waste of time, that it is just window dressing. We are just here beating our chests and stomping our feet so that we can have the illusion of having done something, while actually having done nothing.

While I am not an idealist, I do still tilt at the occasional windmill. I believe there is room for Council to act. I think you must act to protect the city from danger, financial harm and social upheaval. Our lawyer is filing suit in Federal Court for an injunction to stop the Mayor’s regulations. Now do you want to be the city that has the feds cleaning up your mess, because you failed to act, or do you want to be the adults here and truly represent your constituents who wholeheartedly oppose the Mayor on this?

Here is a rough draft of proposed legislation. You do still legislate?

Whereas religious and humanitarian groups serving meals to the poor and homeless in the parks of Philadelphia and providing other needed social contact with the wider community are commendable activities and are historically, universally recognized uses of parks;

Whereas religious and humanitarian groups and individuals have the right to share food with hungry people wherever they find them, according to principles of the Pennsylvania Freedom of Religion Act, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the principles of all world religions and humanitarian doctrines;

Whereas if the proposed Health Dept. and Parks and Rec. Dept. decrees go into effect, it will expose the City to expensive litigation, social unrest, economic boycott, and will harm the most vulnerable of its citizens;

Be it resolved that no regulation shall interfere with or prohibit the free distribution of food, clothing and other aid to people in any parks in Philadelphia to as many as may freely congregate there.

Thank you. May God bless you. We pray that God gives you wisdom. We pray for peace on the streets and in the parks of Philadelphia.

Warfare on the Streets

The class warfare is open in Philadelphia. I walked through the newly refurbished Sister City Plaza and park on Monday. There were armed guards everywhere, even standing over the tables where patrons were drinking their coffee at the cafe. They were screening visitors to make sure no homeless people entered the park.

It was like I crossed the street and entered 1960s East Berlin. The statue of Washington looked so out of place. I felt like I was in a Sliders episode and had slipped into an alternate reality. This is not the America I was born in.

I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

I then joined Adam Bruckner and Philly Restart to observe their ministry across the street from the Family Court building. It was very orderly and peaceful. I would think the founding fathers would be proud to see such a happy sight of a sharing community in action in the city they helped to shape. Yet across the street, there stood five guards with billy clubs visible, with angry, determined faces. They had made it known that none of the homeless or of the volunteers were to go over onto the sidewalk on that side of the street. This is a violation of civil rights. I witnessed some people who had business in the court building intimidated and almost turned away, because they were black and very poorly dressed. They had to remonstrate to the guard that they were not homeless.

Excuse me! Our founding documents say that “all men are created equal,” not just those who can afford to keep their homes!

Has 2012 Philadelphia become 1964 Alabama? Has Mayor Nutter become Gov. Wallace and the homeless and those that serve them become the southern Negroes before the civil rights movement? The tactics are eerily similar.

Philadelphians Convene on Barnes Museum Opening Gala to Condemn Ban on Sharing Food Outdoors

May 19 – In protest of Mayor Nutter’s unconscionable and imminent ban on sharing food outdoors in city parks, human rights advocates, religious groups, and affected individuals will be holding An Alternate Opening of the Barnes Museum: An exhibit on poverty, class warfare, and hunger, sponsored by Food Not Bombs.

Saturday, May 19th
20th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Press Contact: Niko Rayer (215) 881-5734

Mayor Nutter is on his way to outlawing sharing free food with homeless Philadelphians because of money and tourism. The newly opening Barnes Museum is one of the biggest reasons the mayor wants to starve homeless folks off the Parkway, keeping Philadelphians he has done little to help out of sight and out of mind.

On May 19, the Barnes Museum will hold a cocktail reception, with dinner and dancing – at a cost of $1,500 per plate. Those who attend will say they’re there to observe and celebrate art, valuable because it reveals truths about the human condition.

But the truth is, for most of us, $1,500 isn’t a plate of food — it’s more than a month’s income, more than a winter’s worth of heating bills, more than six months worth of food stamps allotments. And that’s for Philadelphians who are squeezed tight in this economy, but nonetheless more fortunate than many who may be displaced from the Parkway by Mayor Nutter’s ban on sharing free food outdoors.

So we’ll be holding our own art show. Outdoors, for all to see. And, this show will focus on class warfare, on hunger, on being poor. These are not abstract themes. Pennsylvania may soon cut General Assistance, for example, even while major homeless shelters in our city are closing down. These are the parts of the human condition we face here in Philadelphia, real people’s problems that need to be confronted instead of swept under the rug.

To illustrate these themes, we’ll show artwork from Barnes’s own collection, alongside art by those outraged by the city’s ban on sharing free food outdoors. And while the city’s upper-crust dine, we’ll be sharing free food, home-cooked by volunteers – because we believe that no one in our city should go hungry.

Join us for an unforgettable evening.

Community Service Inoculations

It is now the policy of The King’s Jubilee that we will not sign the community service forms of students other than regular volunteers with us. We disagree with the community service requirement in the curricula of schools as it has the opposite of its intended effect. We have seen that it actually inoculates young people against participation in voluntary service by, in effect, making it mandatory service. Young people are now required to do X number of hours of “voluntary” service to graduate high school. This turns it into homework. How many of us voluntarily picked up homework right after high school? You catch my drift. This requirement has put a damper on volunteerism among twenty-somethings for a while now. We’re dropping out.

We do not need tourists or kids who are here to be taught a lesson, either. We welcome anyone who wants to try it. Come join us for an evening. If you enjoy serving with us, come back. If you do not, we trust God will lead you to something that you are more suited to.