An organization that provides food for individuals experiencing homelessness received a cease and desist order from the city of Santa Cruz.

The organization, called Food Not Bombs, is a collective that provides food to unhoused people across the world. They recover vegan and vegetarian food that would have otherwise gone to the trash, “in protest to war, poverty, and destruction of the environment….”

Food Not Bombs co-founder Keith McHenry told The Times that its work is based on three principles: food is always “free to anyone rich or poor, drunk or sober”; they have no presidents, directors, or leader; and, finally, that the organization is not a charity but it is dedicated to nonviolent social change.

But there are other rules, such as never applying for a permit to feed the hungry. “The reality is you do not need to ask permission from the government to do something the government itself does not do, which is why we have a global policy against accepting or requesting permission to share free food on the streets,” McHenry says.

(The city of Santa Cruz provided The Times with multiple permits previously obtained by Food Not Bombs for its past events. McHenry explained that the organization has obtained permits for land and facilities, but it refuses to obtain permits that specifically apply to the handing out of food….)

During the pandemic, Food Not Bombs has been operating at a downtown landmark clock tower surrounded by three streets, known as Town Clock.

Elizabeth Smith, the communications manager for the city of Santa Cruz, told The Times that the location has presented problems. “There’s a lot of traffic. It was getting crowded in this small parcel of land. People were spilling out into the street,” Smith said. She added that the city requires those serving food to get a permit to ensure the health and safety of the food’s recipients.

According to Smith, one reason that the city is now asking the organization to acquire permits is because it went from only serving the needy on the weekends to hosting daily operations.

The cease and desist order, which the city provided to The Times, contains “public complaints” the city claims to have received about the organization’s operations. They include: trampling of vegetation, FNB event participants smoking on site, tiles of the Town Clock chipped away, pedestrian pathways being blocked, and food and debris illegally dumped into a water fountain….

“We have numerous organizations within the city of Santa Cruz that work to feed the hungry, and with none of them do we have the issues that we have with Food Not Bombs,” Smith says. “So it is not the act of feeding that is at issue here. It is the conditions that come along with it that infringe upon the quality of life of others….”

The above comes from a March 1 story in the L.A. Times.