Feeding the homeless in Myrtle Beach goes to court

A dispute over where and how people can feed the homeless in Myrtle Beach went to court on Wednesday.

Richard Hopkins appeared at Myrtle Beach Municipal Court on behalf of his group of volunteers to defend their rights to help the needy.

Hopkins said for around 20 months, his group, which goes by the name Project Hope, held mass feedings for the homeless in Chapin Park.

Their feedings hadn't received much opposition until last March, when a police officer came by and asked if they had a permit to have a mass feeding. Since the group didn't, the officer ultimately wound up giving them a more than $200 citation since they violated the city's park ordinance.

That ordinance went into effect in 2009. It placed limits on mass feedings in city parks, which are publicly-owned. The city does not have a law against people holding mass feedings on private property, as long as they have the property owner's permission.

Rather than pay the fine, Hopkins chose to dispute it in court.

"We are trying to assert our legal right to do this, to ultimately have the ordinance overturned as being targeted specifically to the homeless. This is something that is wrong," Hopkins said.

Ultimately, the judge waived the fine, but Hopkins was found guilty for not having a permit to host the mass feedings.

The waiver of the fine was a small victory in Hopkins' mind, but it still wasn't the outcome his group was looking for.

"It's still disappointing that he didn't see the case my way and did find me guilty," Hopkins said.

However, the city said there are other options for volunteer groups.

"There are a number of groups locally that already provide that service, whether it's the community kitchen, one of the other facilities that reaches out to people who have needs of one sort or another. They can donate food to the food banks. They can work for the community kitchen, which provides meals every day of the week," said Mark Kruea, spokesman for the city of Myrtle Beach.

The city also lets groups apply for permits to use the park for mass feedings, but it limits groups to four times a year. Hopkins said since his group isn't an official organization, he said his group is limited to one permit per year under the ordinance. He said this is not enough help to give to the homeless people in our area.

After Wednesday's court ruling, Hopkins is unsure where his group will go from here. One option is appealing the decision.