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Feeding homeless on state park land OKed

September 15, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
A non-profit organization in Orange County is now able to serve food to the homeless at Doheny State Beach without the threat of a citation. The charity is now able to get around the state park regulation that threatened to boot their operation.Wil Spoon and dozens of other homeless and working poor in Dana Point worry about getting enough food. Thanks to a settlement, they can count on at least one meal a day in one picnic area of Doheny State Beach.

"People are able to have a safe place to eat and treated with the same respect as everyone else," said Wil Spoon, who relies on help to get by.

The food provided by volunteers with a non-profit faith-based group called "Welcome Inn," short for "Interfaith Needs Network."

Back in February the group came to the park to feed people in need two days in a row. On the third day, park rangers approached them and threatened to cite them for what they were doing.

State officials said they were engaging in an unlawful assembly, violating Regulation 4321.

"Food gets distributed in the picnic area on almost daily basis but this group, because of its message and because of why it was doing the feeding, was being prevented and we thought that was unconstitutional," said ACLU attorney Hector Villagra.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit, and a settlement has been reached. State parks will not enforce the regulation, so Welcome Inn can feed the homeless in the park for at least the next three years.

A state parks spokesman said: "We don't like to discriminate against anybody. A bigger question on this is, Are state parks the right venue for social service programs to be run or should they be set aside for parks and recreation as intended.?"

Volunteers get ready to hand out food in the park, this time with no worry of being cited.

 

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