Editorial: Little if any dignity left for those seeking a meal


Editorial: Little if any dignity left for those seeking a meal

Michael Gold, Editor

There is another battle brewing against organized volunteer efforts to feed people in St Augustine who otherwise might go hungry.  Historic City News readers recall the controversy we reported when the “Food not Bombs” group attempted to serve free meals in the Plaza de la Constitution a few years back.

City management received complaints from everyone with a telephone because the veterans group and other volunteers contributing to the free buffet were attracting undesirables to the centerpiece of our community.  It seems you are not allowed to parade the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore in the public eye.

So, in his inimitable managerial style, John Regan issued a ruling that said “wretched refuse” would take their unsightly visage to a vacant lot on Bridge Street where they could be fed.  Out of sight, out of mind.  For a time that seemed to work.  At least the downtown merchants stopped calling the city manager’s office, and that’s really what’s important.

The word spread quickly among the homeless community.  Unfortunately, “homeless” means different things to different people.  Some are homeless by choice while others are victims of circumstance; eager to get back on the road to self-sufficiency.  Others are professional beggars, vagrants, and even criminals.  Many are drunkards, drug abusers or mentally ill.  The truth is that homelessness has countless faces and they can be easily confused.

A respectable organization, Home Again St Johns, coordinated the calendar for a group of faith-based charities and missions who agreed to take turns manning the operations.  Every night the newly energized group, “Dining with Dignity” provided a meal for anyone who asked.  A big step up from a couple of banquet tables and tin-foil casserole dishes in the Plaza.  Over the past seven and a half years, however, the “success” of Dining with Dignity has pushed it back into the spotlight.

The members of the community that avail themselves of the generosity of these charitable efforts have grown in number to the point that they have outgrown their vacant lot.  And, of course, where do all of these diners discard their trash or go to the restroom?

It appears the activity may fail the Hygiene Codes and Standards established by the Florida Department of Health, which have nothing to do with zoning or non-profit status.

  • Improper handwashing and touching ready to eat foods with bare hands
  • Improper storage of food (inadequate refrigeration temperature or hot holding temperature)
  • Improper washing of hands and fingernails
  • Improperly cooling foods
  • Cross contamination (e.g., from uncooked meat to salad fixings)
  • Improperly cleaned and sanitized eating and cooking utensils, work areas, and equipment
  • Contamination of food, utensils, and equipment from flies, roaches, and other pests.

Even temporary operations are susceptible to foodborne illness caused by bacteria or by the toxins (poisons) produced by bacteria.  Dr. Roy Hinman spoke to some of these specific issues in his testimony on behalf of the city in the recent panhandling fiasco.

According to DOH:

“However, there is equipment that generally applies to all operations. At a minimum this includes:

  • At least one handwashing sink in the area where food is prepared or served
  • A mop sink or curb sink for the disposal of wastewater
  • A restroom for workers and guests (fixtures must be in accordance with the Florida Building Code)
  • Hot and cold running water under pressure at all faucets”

Just as an informed observer, I see a clear and present risk to public health in the way these services are delivered.  Clearly if the same service was provided indoors, with sinks, restrooms, ice or other adequate refrigeration, sanitary utensils, etc., there would be a path to compliance.

It will be interesting to see if the phone in the city manager’s office is ringing enough to motivate him to finally come up with a plan to manage his responsibility to our tax paying residents as well as our less fortunate.  Or, maybe he’ll just take another couple of weeks off and revisit Spain.

Michael Gold is the Editor in Chief for Historic City News and trustee for Historic City Companies, Inc.  Opinions expressed in our editorial content are the opinions of this writer and not necessarily those of our publications, company, employees, readers or advertisers.  We welcome your contrasting point of view.


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