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Man Held Guilty and Fined for Feeding the Homeless in City Park
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Richard Hopkins was accused of the heinous offense of leading a group of local residents and trying to give food to the homeless at Chapin Park on March 9, Saturday. This Wednesday, he was found guilty and fined a sum of $1,029 at the Myrtle Beach Law Enforcement Center by city judge Glenn Ohanesian. The fine is suspended as of now.

However, there seems more to the story than meets the eye.


Why did Hopkins want to feed the homeless? He told the court that he was a Quaker, and it was in line with his faith and religious duties. He also said he gave food on Saturdays, because on Saturday it was difficult for homeless to get two meals – most establishments being closed.

Hopkins and his friends had been providing food to the homeless in Myrtle Beach every Saturday for the last 20 months at the Chapin Park. However, the city has created an ordinance that requires a permit from the city for use of the park.

While obtaining a permit seems innocent enough, the actual fact is you have to obtain a permit every time you want to feed the homeless, and each time, you would need permission from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, and also need to furnish a $1 million liability insurance policy.

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Hopkins submitted that he and his group did not receive any funds but did charity out of their own pockets, hence it was impossible for them to go by those rules.

He also pointed out that large groups such as birthday parties and family reunions are allowed to be held in the park without requiring compliance with DHEC regulations. But when it comes to providing food to the homeless, apparently the city sees red, if private citizens take it upon themselves to do it.

The city of Myrtle Beach actually has a grand plan on the homeless and has hired one Merry Jeffcoat to create a homeless coalition called New Directions, under which the city wants to coordinate all agencies dealing with the homeless. Budgets and funding could be at stake.

Jeffcoat appeared in court and said 60 different agencies and groups had attended the inauguration meeting of the coalition.

That the city finds a big interest conflict in Hopkins’s actions seem apparent given the intense and unexpected opposition to his activities:

Even though this was a small ticket for misdemeanor, the city hired an outside attorney at $215 an hour to handle the matter.

Hopkins said in court that after he stopped using Chapin Park, he began giving food to the homeless at the SOS building on 21st Avenue North, but within one week the SOS board informed him not to use the property.

An interim pastor at the First Methodist Church then invited the group to use the Church’s facilities. But Hopkins said in court, “We were told by the pastor that the city manager called him and told him not to allow us to use the church anymore.” A city spokesperson has said the city manager has denied calling the church.

Then the group tried to distribute food to the homeless from their private properties, but last Saturday, the city police and zoning officials warned them that they are violating city zoning laws.

WBTW News13 reported that Mary Jeffcoat, who has been hired by the City of Myrtle Beach for facilitating the Homeless Coalition, said homeless people can get two meals everyday in Myrtle Beach.

However, according to the complaint filed against Hopkins, there were at least 40 to 50 homeless persons waiting for a meal, when Hopkins was apprehended by the police at Chapin Park.

Jeffcoat’s contention is different, “What I would ask him is, is this about you fulfilling your need or is it all of us trying to work to help the homeless people improve their situation?”

Susan Dunn of the ACLU, who represented Hopkins, said, “This ordinance is trying to impose on those who have a different philosophy that they must believe the same way the City of Myrtle Beach believes.”

The case seems destined for appeal.





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