Last week, U.S. District Judge William H. Yohn reaffirmed his decision to issue an injunction against Mayor Nutter’s ban on the serving of meals to the homeless and hungry in city parks.
His findings, aired in a 56-page opinion, were in some ways unsurprising given the judge’s initial reaction to the testimony presented by city officials and the coalition of religious groups suing the city. He found that the groups serving meals on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway fulfilled a real need; that the city, despite much rhetoric about moving meals indoors, was unprepared to do so; and that banning the groups would harm them and the people they serve.
The opinion also documented, sometimes just barely between the lines, every seeming irony, contradiction and blunder in the city’s now five-month-long press to oust the Parkway meal-servers. There was, for example, the observation that while “Nutter testified that there are currently four private indoor [meal] facilities in Center City. … He did not know whether these facilities received any funding from the city.” There was the judge’s calling the City Hall “apron,” which Nutter proposed as an alternative meal site, “an unsuitable alternative … which certainly does nothing to advance [the city’s] objective to feed the homeless indoors.” There was his statement that he was “unconvinced that the ban will advance [the city’s] interest in ending homelessness,” and his comment that, while the city claimed the ban was about offering additional services, “because defendants do not actually offer any social services at the City Hall apron, it is hard to imagine how [that] solution advances their interest at all.”
The list goes on — but perhaps the judge’s harshest comment, if not the most revelatory one, comes late in the opinion. “There is some evidence,” he notes “that the true purpose behind the ban is to move plaintiff’s activities away from the many cultural attractions along the Parkway in an effort to hide the city’s homeless population from tourist eyes.” The city didn’t, he noted, defend the ban on those grounds. “Nor,” he added, “could they.”