Fines in place for those who feed homeless without proper permits

Posted at 10:30 PM, Dec 12, 2013
and last updated 2013-12-13 00:57:34-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- On Saturday mornings, Lee Castillo spends a few hours cooking breakfast for people who might not otherwise have any.

“Utah winters are awful, and we wanted to make sure that they knew that people out there care about them,” Castillo said.

Last week, he started borrowing kitchen space from the Utah Pride Center for a new homeless youth outreach program.  Using food donated by a local church, Castillo and other volunteers cook up the weekly breakfasts for teens with nowhere else to go.

“The youths were grateful to have Eggos and scrambled eggs and warm food,” Castillo said. “It’s nice to know that there is a place that they can come in and get out of the cold and get a meal.”

But under Salt Lake City’s regulations, he could face a fine.

To hold an outreach event, you’re required to have a Free Expression permit and receive approval of a Waste Management Plan by Salt Lake City. To serve food to the public, the Salt Lake County Health Department must administer a Food Safety Temporary Event Permit.

It’s the last requirement that Castillo could run into trouble with, as he’s never sought a permit to cook food for the program in the center’s kitchen.

“I would be devastated to know that I couldn’t be able to feed these youths that are in dire need to get out of the cold and to get food in their bellies because of a permit I don’t have, Castillo said.

But city officials argue the rules aim to protect those youths.

“If you don’t get the proper permits, especially when you’re handling food, sometimes you can get people sick,” said Elizabeth Buehler, Homeless Services Coordinator for the city.

Homeless shelters, like the Rescue Mission of Salt Lake, see the ordinances as a safety net for the people they’re helping.

“If we have to be inconvenienced a little bit by jumping through some hoops to have your event approved by the health department, then it’s a worthy step,” said Chris Croswhite, Executive Director of the shelter.

But for those on the receiving end of the added assistance, the rules are not so helpful.

“I was one of those people who were over there on Pioneer Park and the Road Home,” said Willie Lloyd, who has been going through a substance abuse program at the Rescue Mission for about five months.

Living on the streets of Salt Lake City, Lloyd said, he relied on others to survive.

“Sometimes it was the difference between life or death, whether or not I had the ability to get food somebody was giving to me from the kindness of their heart,” Lloyd said.

City officials said it’s not their intention to police the parks and punish those trying to help others in need. They hope that those interested in serving the public volunteer at one of the city’s shelters currently permitted to serve meals.