Volunteers Sue Portland City Hall Over Requiring Permits to Serve Free Hot Soup

Food service to homeless in downtown Director Park drew the ire of nearby businesses and led to the rule change.

Fox Tower, downtown Portland. (Ian Sane / Flickr)

A dozen volunteers who serve meals to homeless people in Portland parks have sued the city over a rule that would restrict such meal service to one day a week.

Most of the 12 people who filed the suit Wednesday evening in Multnomah County Circuit Court are volunteers with Free Hot Soup, the group whose food service in downtown Director Park drew the ire of nearby businesses and led to the rule change.

The suit asks a judge to block the rule change and allow the meal service to continue.

"There are too many people counting on us to provide this food for them, people who have no other source of food, for us to stand by while this service is threatened," said Jo Foraker, a volunteer with Free Hot Soup.

The lawsuit was filed Nov. 27 on the volunteers' behalf by the nonprofit Oregon Justice Resource Center. It argues that the city rules—requiring volunteer groups to get a permit from Portland Parks and Recreation and hold events no more than once a week—violate the volunteers' constitutional rights to free speech and due process.

"The City cannot place these types of speech restrictions on Portlanders who limit their engagement to peaceful, socially useful activities such as feeding people," says OJRC director Juan Chavez in a statement. "Compassionate assistance for the houseless may not translate into dollars and cents in revenue for the city like business activities do, but its high value to the community should be protected. As we enter the holiday season, a policy like the one being proposed fundamentally shocks conscience and is seemingly contrary to the professed values of the city."

Related: Emails show Portland businesses wanted homeless meal service gone from a downtown park.

The suit names the city of Portland, Portland Parks and Recreation director Adena Long, and City Commissioner Nick Fish, who oversees the parks bureau. Fish said he had not yet seen the lawsuit and so couldn't comment on it. A parks bureau spokesman also declined comment.

WW first reported on the permit requirement—and last week revealed the emails from downtown businesses like Elephants Deli and Pastini, who complained to city officials that Free Hot Soup was frightening away their customers by attracting homeless people to gather.

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