🔷 Community groups rail against proposed fines

🔷 Ordinance would enforce permits for handing out food, clothing

🔷 Critics say elected officials are ignoring issues

PATERSON — A local law to crack down on giving out food, water, clothing and necessities to people on city streets is being called misguided and heartless by community leaders.

The City Council was expected to take up the “Resource Distribution” ordinance for a first reading on Tuesday night.

Nonprofits or other community groups would be required to get a permit from the city Health Department or face expensive fines and possible jail time.

Paterson, NJ (Townsquare Media)
Paterson, NJ (Townsquare Media)

"People are struggling in Paterson just like many communities across the state. Instead of eliminating poverty, the mayor wants to eliminate the poor from public view,” Zellie Thomas, organizer of Black Lives Matter Paterson, said in a written response to New Jersey 101.5.

“If you give out ponchos to people in the rain or hand warmers during the winter, you can face jail time. That’s not helping the city, it’s harming the city because the city isn’t buildings, it’s the people.”

Paterson, NJ
(U.S. Census, Google Maps)

The ordinance to require permits for such distribution events “has been on the books for years,” according to Paterson Alliance Executive Director Inge Spungen. The addition of strict penalties would be an update.

She added for groups that try to comply, “it takes much time and energy because the city’s permit process is not efficient.”

Mayor Andre Sayegh said such distribution was “well-intentioned” but was adding to the public nuisance of trash on city streets.

Spungen said the proposed addition of fines and potential jail time for not securing a permit would “likely increase the burden on the nonprofit community, many of whom responsibly clean up after their distribution events.”

"Much of the trash in Paterson that is found where it is not wanted is left by others who have nothing to do with the community distributions," she said. "The generous nonprofit community may be frustrated or harmed by this ordinance without a significant change in outcomes to Paterson residents.”

New Jersey Spotlight shared its report, including a clip with Sayegh, ahead of the council meeting:

Trenton has long restricted “aggressive” panhandling, as has Newark. In 2019, Newark also began ticketing motorists who gave money to those panhandling in busy streets, citing a safety issue, CBS New York reported.

Newark's ordinance did not restrict donations of food or clothing.

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