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Two Local Ministries Engage in Streetfight with City Over Where to Serve the Homeless

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Every Saturday morning, Don Hart holds a church service at the corners of Ervay and Corsicana streets near Old City Park; he also serves food to the some 100 homeless men, women and children who gather at the intersection. This morning, USA Today writes about Hart's BIGHEART -- which is to say, BIGHEART Ministries, of which Hart's founder and pastor. But more to the point, the paper also details how Hart is breaking city law by serving food at an unauthorized location.

"I'm not stopping. If they were to take me to jail, there will be people who will come take my place," Hart tells Emily Bazar. "We're out here having these people pray for salvation, for healing, for jobs. And we give them a wonderful meal." The USA Today story stems from a federal lawsuit Hart and Rip Parker's Ministry (which is run these days by Will Edwards) filed in Dallas on January 31, 2007. (Here's a copy of their original complaint, for those so interested.)

The ministries claim a city ordinance that allows only certain people to serve food from certain city-designated spots is a violation of their Constitutional rights. Karen Rayzer, the city's director of environmental and health services (who's also named in the suit), tells the paper that the city just wants to make sure the homeless are getting good food from folks who've been properly trained in the preparing and serving of meals. The ministries say in their lawsuit that the way they read the ordinance, the city just didn't want people serving "hot soup or pizza to homeless individuals...on the streets, in camps or under bridges." And if you violate the ordinance, you do face a $2,500 fine.

So far, the city hasn't responded to the suit; the federal courthouse's computer reveals there's been no movement on this suit since mid-February, matter of fact. But BIGHEART's Web site reveals the location of an upcoming gathering: April 8 at Dallas City Hall Plaza, the site of recent July 4 and Thanksgiving servings. --Robert Wilonsky

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