Dayton man arrested after giving food to homeless without a permit; Some say city law ‘criminalizes’ charity

A handful of community members say they are outraged that Dayton police last weekend arrested a man who was handing out food to the homeless because he did not have a permit.

“Does the city of Dayton really want to enforce unjust and unconstitutional laws?” said Lee Cook, who was at the event and who lives in East Dayton. “This city claims to be a human rights city but will arrest you for feeding a stranger for free — what a joke.”

But Dayton Mayor Jeffrey Mims Jr. said there’s more to the story, and the man was warned and did not follow officers’ orders and police had to enforce the law.

“We have rules that we all have to follow,” he said. “It’s just common sense: You just can’t have people running around in public spaces like that, just giving stuff without having any sets of rules or guidelines.”

On Sunday, April 7, a group of people gathered at Courthouse Square at Third and Main streets in downtown Dayton to hand out burritos and other items to people experiencing homelessness.

A group called Nourish Our Neighbors helped host the meal service.

Organizers and volunteers had about 300 free meals to hand out but they only got to distribute about 100 meals when police stepped in and told them to stop, said Red Goodwin, who lives in East Dayton.

Goodwin said police told them that they were violating a city ordinance that states it is against the law to prepare or distribute food, clothing or toiletries in a public place within the central area of the city without a city permit.

Violations of the city ordinance are a fourth-degree misdemeanor.

Goodwin said her husband, Mitchell West, was arrested after giving two burritos to a homeless man who was going to feed them to his dog. She said her husband, who is a military veteran, was handcuffed but was later released.

Goodwin, Cook and other people in attendance said they cannot believe Dayton has a law on the books that “criminalizes” helping the needy.

Cook said they were just trying to build community through distributing food.

Cook said giving meals out to unhoused community members is a basic act of kindness and she thinks the city ordinance violates her First Amendment right to freedom of assembly.

Goodwin said unhoused community members are being treated unfairly by local police, businesses and other organizations because they are trying to push people experiencing homelessness out of sight and out of mind.

She said the city ordinance is an example of the “criminalization of the unhoused.”

“On Sunday, Dayton police showed up to our service and scared our neighbors away,” she said.

Mayor Mims said he talked to multiple people who were at Courthouse Square that day who indicated police officers were nice and courteous.

But the mayor said at least one person defied police directions to stop handing out food, which led to his arrest.

Mims said the city has rules about food distribution for a reason — to ensure the safety of community members.

Five community members who spoke at the city commission meeting on Wednesday said the city should rescind the ordinance.

City Commissioners Shenise Turner-Sloss and Darryl Fairchild said they want to review the ordinance, which was passed in 2005.

Turner-Sloss and Fairchild said they also want more information about what happened on Sunday.

Fairchild thanked speakers for bringing this incident to their attention.

Mayor Mims told this newspaper, “We’ll have to look at the whole ordinance. Again, we can’t change an ordinance that was meant to take care of all of the people in the city of Dayton because of one incident.”

Other cities across the nation also have laws that prohibit people from distributing goods and food in public spaces without permits.

The Dayton Daily News reached out to the city and police department for further comment.

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