El Cajon lifts ban on feeding homeless after Hepatitis A emergency lifted
EL CAJON (KUSI) — A controversial ordinance that prohibited feeding the homeless in public spaces in El Cajon expired Tuesday after the county lifted its emergency declaration on the hepatitis A outbreak.
The El Cajon City Council in October passed the emergency ordinance prohibiting the distribution of food on city-owned property as a way to protect the public from contracting hepatitis A during the outbreak, which has sickened 577 and killed 20 countywide since November 2016.
The ordinance expired after the Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday morning to end the emergency declaration amid a declining number of cases of the disease, which attacks the liver, according to El Cajon city officials.
A dozen activists were arrested for feeding the homeless earlier this month at an event at Wells Park organized by Break the Ban, a group that was founded in response to the law. The group and other activists who were present said the city’s law was unconstitutional because it infringed on their freedom of speech.
The city defended the arrests and said officials had worked with community groups that have historically fed the homeless and “took strides” to inform the public of places where food can be served and distributed legally.
“The city simply enforced the urgency ordinance, as it indicated it would, subsequent to substantial warnings over the past several weeks,” city spokeswoman Monica Zech said.
The city removed notices of the ban from parks on Tuesday, she said.
Hepatitis A, which can be deadly, is commonly transmitted by touching objects or eating food that someone with the virus has handled or by having sex with an infected person.
The disease doesn’t always cause symptoms, which can include fever, fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, yellowing of the eyes, stomach pain, vomiting, dark urine, pale stools and diarrhea, according to the HHSA.