Hard Times USA

Couple Fined $750, Threatened With Jail for Feeding Homeless People

Debbie and Chico Jimenez refuse to turn their backs on the hungry.

Photo Credit: Spreading the Word Without Saying a Word Ministry

A Florida couple who fed more than 100 homeless people each week have been accused of breaking the law for their good deed.

Debbie and Chico Jimenez, along with four volunteers, were ticketed last week for $373 each and threatened with jail after Daytona Beach police showed up at their weekly Wednesday gatherings at Manatee Island Park. They were cited with violating the city’s ordinance banning feeding a crowd on public property and fined $273 each for trespassing and $100 for no park permit. 

According to the Daytona-Beach News Journal, a sign at the park reads: “Social services activities including, but not limited to, food banks and feeding programs are prohibited.” According to NBC News, one of the volunteers cited with these fines just recently escaped homelessness and wanted to help give back. 

Debbie Jimenez said they refuse to pay the fines and will stand up to the police. “We were given 10 days to either pay the fine or tell them we're going to court,” she told NBC. “We’re going to court. The police don’t like it. But how can we turn our backs on the hungry? We can’t.”

The volunteers are up against a police department whose chief says they don't understand homelessness, which is exactly what Jimenez says about the police chief.

"There is a segment of the homeless population that is homeless by choice,” said Daytona Beach Police Chief Mike Chitwood. “I don't want to impugn them all. But some are homeless because they are sex offenders, substance abusers and bank robbers. That's why we ask (Good Samaritans) to coordinate with our social service agencies, because they know who needs to be served."

Chico Jimenez has explained to the press that most of the people he helped feed each week simply “lost their jobs, lost their families.”

Debbie Jimenez said the police also said their feedings were enabling homelessness.

“This time, the police said we are creating more homeless people by feeding them in the park, that we are enabling them by giving them one meal in a week,” she said. “Does that make sense to you? It’s so crazy.”

Chief Chitwood has also been portraying the humble gathering as a circus event, stating that the city has spent millions on the park so residents can enjoy the space — which apparently they cannot do if it is used for weekly meals for the homeless.

"This got so big, it was posted on YouTube,” Chitwood told a local news outlet. “It was really brought to our attention that, hey, things are really out of control on Manatee Island." 

To activists working with the homeless, what's out of control is the ongoing criminalization of homelessness in America. From banning sitting on the street to putting homeless people on buses with one-way tickets out of state, cities and states have come up with aggressive ways to rid their streets of homeless people. Many cities do not address real needs such as affordable housing or job creation. Instead, local governments exacerbate poverty and perpetuate homelessness.

These trends makes services such as the Jimenez’s meals crucial for their region's homeless. The couple began handing out meals a year ago as part of the ministry they founded, Spreading the Word Without Saying a Word. Now, they can’t go back to the park unless they win the court battle they are prepared to fight.

“The worst thing is, these are people we have grown to love, they've become like family to us, and now we’re not allowed to go down and do that anymore,” Debbie Jimenez said. “It's just heartbreaking. I have cried and cried and cried.” 

Below is a video of the incident: 

Alyssa Figueroa is an associate editor at AlterNet. 

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