Random acts of Pasta? How some cities prohibit feeding the needy.

A Utah man gave Olive Garden meals to area homeless people. But recent restrictions on cities' distribution of food to the homeless may mean that these acts will become more sparse. 

Steve Helber/AP Photo/File
In this May 22, 2014 photo, patrons exit an Olive Garden Restaurant, a Darden restaurant brand, in Short Pump, Va.

When Italian restaurant chain Olive Garden sold 1,000 unlimited pasta passes — unlimited meals over seven weeks — Matt Tribe, of Ogden, Utah, jumped on the offer, aiming to use the card 100 times. He distributed 10 of the 100 meals to area homeless people.

But the fall project, dubbed “Random Acts of Pasta” by Mr. Tribe, comes as many cities are tightening their restrictions on feeding the homeless.

An October report from the National Coalition for the Homeless found that more than 30 US cities have restricted or are trying to restrict the sharing of food with the homeless.

One of those cities is Salt Lake City, Utah, which is about 40 miles away from Ogden. There, a food handler’s permit is necessary to prepare and serve food, though a bill that awaits Senate action would allow volunteers to have food safety training, not a permit. 

In a video that Mr. Tribe released, he handed paper bags of fettuccini Alfredo to homeless individuals.

“You guys hungry?” he asks. “How about some Olive Garden? That sound alright?”

According to the report, 62 percent of bans enacted in 2013-14 involved restrictions on serving food on public property. 

“Local law enforcement agencies argue that groups that share food with people experiencing homelessness often block traffic or leave behind garbage,” the report reads.

But the coalition says that in some cities, meeting difficult location standards means that organizations may have to distribute meals in remote areas or may face fines if a permit is rejected.

When a 90-year-old Fort Lauderdale, Florida, man received a citation for feeding the homeless publicly, the effects of the area restrictions became clear.

The Fort Lauderdale restrictions block organizations from feeding the homeless outside within 500 feet of one another and say operations must be 500 feet from residential properties.

The man, Arnold Abbott, had been feeding the homeless locally for more than two decades. But the city had passed laws that restricted where organizations could give food in late October.

Proponents of these restrictions, like Fort Lauderdale mayor Jack Seiler, said that distributing food to the homeless perpetuates a “cycle of homeless” in the city. “Providing them with a meal and keeping them in that cycle on the street is not productive,” he told the Sun Sentinel in late October.

The National Coalition for the Homeless report says that lack of affordable housing, mental health, and physical disability present far deeper problems than do food-sharing programs.  

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