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.