Charitable distribution proposal gets little support at public meeting

Despite more than a month of meetings in which City-County Council members and the Indianapolis Office of Public Health and Safety discussed charitable giving with 30 organizations, only one person testified in favor of the proposal that had been put on hold since it’s July 11 introduction.

The council’s Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee heard public comments Wednesday evening on proposals 250 and 256. Proposal 250 would create designated giving sites and allocate $76,000 to the OPHS for restrooms and upkeep at the two locations. Proposal 256 requires  those giving food to 10 or more people in a public place to register with the OPHS or face a potential fine.

The committee first unanimously approved a change to Proposal 250, the less controversial of the pair. Initially, the proposed ordinance listed Babe Denny Park and the Old City Hall parking lot, but the committee removed the specific names to further explore locations. 

Public testimony opposed the initial sites, with Meg Storrow, president of the Mass Ave Cultural Arts District, saying Old City Hall—which is within the district—is unacceptable due to the trash and broken glass often by the recycling drop off. Instead, she suggested Lugar Plaza in downtown, which already has restroom facilities.

Several speakers denounced the choice of Babe Denny Park beside Lucas Oil Stadium because it’s inaccessible during any events.

The committee moved Proposal 250 to the full council, which could weigh in on it as soon as the Sept. 12 meeting. The committee announced prior to the meeting that Proposal 256 would just receive a hearing, without a vote.

The Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention, one of the city’s largest advocates for homeless individuals, announced opposition to the proposal. In a letter from executive director Chelsea Haring-Cozzi, she said the group is in favor of the designated giving sites but said Proposal 256 is punitive and creates unintentional barriers.

Elder Coleman, executive director of Seven Pillars Refuge Place, told IBJ that City-County Council President Vop Osili was receptive during the process and wanted a permanent solution to the homelessness crisis in Indianapolis. But, during testimony Wednesday evening, he criticized the proposal and reminded the audience that councilors are up for reelection in November.

Coleman also spoke about the incident that fueled the proposal, a fatal stabbing that occurred at University Park in May. Coleman said his organization paid for the victim’s funeral. He has complied with orders to move charitable giving events several times, but this proposal goes too far, he said.

“Remove this proposal, sit down with all of us and come up with a solution,” Coleman said.

A lot of feedback on the proposed ordinance dealt with fines included in the proposal. Those giving to 10 or more individuals on public property without registering would receive a written warning, a fine of $250 for a second violation, and a $500 fine for a third violation.

 In an interview prior to the hearing, Osili told IBJ the council is looking for a “carrot” to get charitable donors to comply with the ordinance, and then perhaps the “stick” of the fine wouldn’t be necessary.

Representatives of the Christ Church Cathedral, the Poor People’s Campaign, Circle Up Indy, the Cole-Noble Neighborhood Association, the Indianapolis Party for Socialism and Liberalism all spoke in opposition.

At the conclusion of public comment, councilors voted to postpone Proposal 256 indefinitely. Councilors Paul Annee and Ethan Evans voted against shelving the proposal.

Community meetings

The proposal, which was co-authored by Councilors Kristin Jones and Zach Adamson and Osili, was tabled while the group met with constituents and stakeholders.

The meetings helped to clarify the proposal and its intention and dispel internet rumors, Jones told IBJ. Osili agreed.

“You could almost see some folks who might have come in agitated, you can see that thermometer drop to the point where, by the end of the evening we’re actually talking about what’s going to work,” Osili told IBJ.

The council also put out a press release Wednesday of frequently asked questions about Proposal 256. Among the key points in the document are that the ordinance will not criminalize charitable donating and that it does not apply to private property, such as church parking lots. It also emphasizes that the proposed ordinance only applies to giving to 10 or more individuals.

Political divide

Democrats on the council received negative feedback from would-be supporters, who said the proposal mimicked 2020’s Proposal 291, authored by Republican Michael Paul-Hart. The widely-criticized proposal was supported by just one Democrat of the nine in the committee, Councilor Dan Boots.

Brian Mowery, Republican minority leader, said he was supportive of the return of an ordinance similar to the Republican-backed proposal that was axed in 2020. But, he said Democrats were doing a reversal for political reasons.

“It’s a little concerning to me, the people that are trying to champion this, because when this came up, when it was a Republican idea, [they said] it was a terrible idea and that it was going to be easier to get a gun in Indianapolis than it would be to feed the homeless—which wasn’t true, they know that’s not true now in their proposal,” Mowery said.

Jones, a Democrat and co-author of the current proposal, did say the Republican proposal would make it easier to get a gun than to give to homeless individuals in 2020. Several signs and a few testifiers also referenced this shift.

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