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The traveling soup kitchen under fire

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Adam Ripley cooks a mean breakfast. And in the spirit of the Bible, he shares his eggs, sausage, and orange juice with the homeless of this Appalachian city.

But his Saturday morning feedings became so popular that the city booted him from Pritchard Park, a downtown hang-out, to suburban Aston Park, where a limited number of people come by.

"It's infuriating, because they're deliberately pushing us out of the way," the college student says, after a recent breakfast at Aston. "Plus we don't get as much foot traffic out here."

Asheville is one of several cities that is cracking down on mobile soup kitchens – "soupmobiles" – especially those stationed too close to established neighborhoods or high-rent districts.

•In Las Vegas, feeding too many homeless people without a permit could mean a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail after the city council banned mobile feeding in July. (The ordinance does not affect the Las Vegas Strip.)

•In Dallas, new feeding zones were put in place in February in outlying parks while pushing soupmobiles outside downtown areas.

•Orlando, Fla., in July banned large-scale feedings from 42 of 99 city parks.

•In Atlanta and Venice, Calif., city authorities have chased people who feed the homeless from public parks, say homeless relief agencies.

"These attitudes have been building for a long time, and it's related to increasing income inequalities where there's a sense of people who are very poor as being 'other' and not being our brothers and sisters," says Donna Friedman, director of the Center for Social Policy at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.

Supporters say the crackdowns infringe on free- assembly rights and their desire to aid their fellow man in accordance with the Bible. Cities say the mobile canteens lure the homeless away from the public-health providers and shelters that can provide long-term solutions.

In Las Vegas, city officials cite one example of how mobile feeding can be counterproductive. By setting up in Huntridge Park, the group Food Not Bombs, which serves vegetarian meals to the homeless, was interfering with shelters and support services, says city attorney Brad Jerbic. The city has spent $14 million since 1999 to help homeless people get back on their feet.

Food Not Bombs, a grass-roots organization, is planning to protest the ordinance Aug. 10.

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