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Judge Orders Philadelphia Not To Enforce Ban On Free Street Feedings

By Pat Loeb

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- A federal judge today temporarily overturned the City of Philadelphia's prohibition against giving free meals to groups of homeless people in areas classified as city parklands.

The judge ordered the city not to enforce its ban, finding that the city's rationale was not served by the ban.

City officials said that by prohibiting the outdoor feedings, it would restore the dignity of the homeless and encourage them to come indoors, where they could be offered additional services (see related story).

US District Court judge William Yohn found, however, that the city is not offering the additional services it promised, and ordered a temporary restraining order against the feeding ban.

Religious groups which had been conducting the regular periodic food handouts expressed joy and gratitude at the judge's ruling today.  They had claimed that the city's prohibition deprived them of their religious rights and was merely a ruse by the city to avoid an eyesore event near the new Barnes Museum (see related story).

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(Rev. Brian Jenkins, outside the US Courthouse in Philadelphia. Credit: Pat Loeb)

The lead plaintiff, Rev. Brian Jenkins (right), choked up as he talked about the ruling afterward.

"This is a very emotional time," he told KYW Newsradio.  "We give praise to God and to all the people who have stood by us and stood by the homeless... they suffer so much."

Jenkins says he'll celebrate by going to the park on Saturday and feeding the homeless.

Mayor Nutter, calling the judge's ruling a "preliminary of a preliminary statement," stuck to his argument that outdoor feeding complicates efforts to help the homeless.

"We will continue our positive efforts to make sure people receive the services they need, that hunger is one element of a larger, more complicated series of issues," the mayor told reporters.

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