HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Groups that volunteer to feed homeless people in Pennsylvania's state capital are being banned from lots near the county courthouse and administration building because of complaints about public urination, defecation and other problems.
Dauphin County officials have told the volunteers to move on, Pennlive.com (http://bit.ly/18jG6CM) reported Sunday.
Deputy Chief Clerk Scott Burford said Citizens Bank, which rents space from the county, has complained about its ATM kiosk being turned into a "Port-A-John" and said bank workers have been harassed and heckled by homeless people.
"We have a duty to react," said Burford, who denied claims by some homeless advocates that the ban is meant to prompt arrests of homeless people.
It’s possible that the ban may face some backlash, though.
Last August, a federal judge blocked Mayor Michael Nutter’s rule to ban feeding the homeless in Philadelphia, Philly.com reported.
"It hardly needs to be said that plaintiffs' food-sharing programs benefit the public interest," District Judge William H. Yohn Jr., wrote in his 56-page opinion. "Despite [the city's] considerable efforts, many Philadelphians remain homeless and hungry.”
Liesa Burwell-Perry, who directs outreach ministries for Glad Tidings Assembly of God, said the church has been serving food to the homeless behind the county building for three years. She said it's well-lit, centrally located and that the problems encountered aren't likely to change if the charities are forced to set up shop elsewhere.
"They're kind of entrapping us because they don't have a solution and we don't know what to do," Burwell-Perry said.
Burford said the county isn't looking to lock up the homeless, and said new "no loitering" signs won't just target the homeless. The signs also are meant to deter patrons of nearby bars who park in the lots, or stop there to relieve themselves before heading home.
"I don't know that arrests are a good solution for us. We've asked for the least invasive measures and that's asking them to move on," Burford said. "We don't want to see anybody put in jail."
Information from: The Patriot-News, http://www.pennlive.com/patriotnews