A group of twelve volunteers were arrested in California for feeding the homeless on Sunday. The event was organized by Break the Ban, a group that formed after the El Cajon City Council passed an emergency ordinance prohibiting the distribution of food on any city-owned property in response to the hepatitis A outbreak.
The governor of California declared a state of emergency last October due to an outbreak of hepatitis A. The Department of Public Health (CDPH) reported that there were more than 500 people in California who contracted the viral disease since November 2016.
Most of the people infected have been homeless.
The infection is transmitted by ingesting contaminated food and water or through direct contact with an infectious person.
Officials say they passed the ordinance to protect the public from the disease and stop it from spreading.
Activists disagree. They say the ban is based on an "excuse."
“This ban is a punitive measure under the guise of combating the Hepatitis A outbreak," Mark Lane, Break the Ban Organizer wrote on Facebook. "Hepatitis A is not spread by community and religious organizations feeding people, it is spread when the local government fails to provide adequate public bathrooms and hand-washing facilities for people.”
Each of the people caught handing out food to the homeless was cited and charged with a misdemeanor, including 14-year-old volunteer.
“If I’m going to be arrested for something, let it be for feeding the homeless,” said Matthew Schneck, one of the volunteers arrested.
An attorney representing the twelve people arrested told NBC San Diego that he believed the city voted for the ordinance to force the homeless population out of the city, not to protect them from disease.
“It was really a disguise,” said attorney Scott Dreher. “People were complaining homeless people will come to the park if you give them free stuff.”
If convicted, all twelve of the volunteers cited could face a $1,000 fine and jail time.