DAYTONA BEACH, FL — A charitable couple that devotes weekly time to feeding the homeless and hungry have been slapped with matching $375 fines as recognition for their acts of kindness. The town and county are deploying police to forcefully stop and punish people who privately feed the homeless because it reduces the need for government-run social services.
The couple behind the project is Chico and Debbie Jimenez, a middle-aged Christian couple that has devoted their time to feed the downtrodden every Wednesday in Manatee Island Park in Daytona Beach. Debbie, 52, is a retired auto parts store manager, and Chico, 60, is a retired construction manager. The couple both left their jobs a year ago to devote themselves fully to their ministry, called Spreading the Word Without Saying a Word.
The Jimenezes use the Book of Matthew as inspiration during their extensive feeding efforts. As Jesus said: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me…. Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 35:34-40)
After a year of service, their efforts were abruptly squashed by the government in May 2014, when 5 police officers were sent to shut down their ministry. The officers “made no bones about it,” according to the Jimenezes; everyone responsible for feeding the homeless would be punished to the full extent of the law.
Chico and Debbie Jimenez, along with four volunteers, were each given 2nd Degree Misdemeanors. The penalty for unauthorized charity is a $375 fine imposed on every volunteer. One of the volunteers was a wheelchair-bound man who had recently escaped homelessness. As an additional slap in the face, police handed out multiple parking tickets to the organizers. In total, police dumped $2,238.00 in fines on the peaceful volunteers.
Additionally, all members involved were permanently banned from the park. If any should return, they will be arrested for trespassing — on public property, no less. The right to peaceably assemble has been declared null-and-void for charity workers.
“You’ve got to have permits,” the officers insisted.
“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. It’s just heartbreaking. I have cried and cried and cried,” said Debbie Jimenez.
Apologists for the government repression argue that not all of the homeless people are mannerly or clean while in the park. Not unexpectedly, some homeless people have mental health issues, substance abuse problems, and histories with the police. Apparently that negates their ability to enjoy the park with the rest of the public. The government’s solution is banning the charity workers outright and punishing everyone, instead of focusing on individual problems.
“We as a city have spent millions of dollars to turn that park into a place for families, kids and dog lovers,” said Daytona Police Chief Mike Chitwood to NBC. “We have an ordinance that says when people want to perform acts of kindness or charity that they must coordinate with our local social service agencies.”
The Daytona Beach News-Journal reports that the city and county has broader plans to eventually centralize all homeless services under one authority. The recent increase in police crackdowns are geared to “discourage Good Samaritans from steering homeless people away from the agencies set up to provide the same services.”
In other words, the government doesn’t want private citizens providing charitable services to needy people because it lowers the number of people who might apply for taxpayer-funded government welfare.
Sadly, this repressive controls on charity workers are becoming commonplace in cities across the country. Police State USA recently covered a story about a group of church volunteers who were threatened by the police for feeding homeless people biscuits and coffee in Raleigh, North Carolina. Similarly, a Christian minister was forced to stop helping the homeless in Birmingham, Alabama.
It is unfortunate that government agencies prefer dependency over individuals and charities stepping up to solve social problems. So long as people tolerate it and do not push back, the stranglehold will only tighten.
“We both have made a lot of good friends in the park and are devastated that we are banned the Manatee Park forever. I am heartbroken,” the couple wrote on Facebook. “But, it isn’t over until GOD says it’s over.”
In spite of being harassed and punished, the charity workers should take comfort. As Jesus told his followers, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:10)
The couple posted a video of their last feeding session, which took place on May 7th.
Daytona Beach Police Department (Florida)
Phone: (386) 323-3569