The Mayor of El Cajon is pushing back against critics who say the city is punishing the homeless by banning the distribution of food at a city park.
Mayor Bill Wells also defended the city’s controversial policy of ticketing those who hand out free food.
Protestors violated that ban, on purpose, last weekend when 12 of them -- including a 14-year-old boy -- were cited by police.
Wells lashed out at the volunteers, who claim the ban on public feeding hurts the needy, and is designed to push away El Cajon’s homeless, without solving the problem.
"Well, that's just a lie,” Wells told NBC 7. “That's very disingenuous, and they’re attacking the city for their own political gain.”
Wells said the park is a hot-spot for Hepatitis A, which has sickened more than 500 people county-wide, most of them homeless. He said the park doesn’t have enough restrooms to accommodate the homeless, who will spread the hepatitis A virus.
"What frustrates me is that it's being portrayed as a heartless act of a city that has no compassion for the homeless,” Wells said. “I couldn't disagree more."
On Sunday, protestors said they're willing to break the law, to help the hungry.
But on Monday, Wells insisted no one will go hungry in his city, which he said has more than a dozen churches and charities offering free meals, and at least 13 restaurants that accept food stamps (EBT).
"The problem is a clash over whether we have the right to try to stem the tide of Hepatitis A by stopping the feedings in the park,” Wells explained. ”They're saying we don't have the right and we are saying the opposite, that not only do we have the right, we have the obligation."
The mayor said the city has dismissed the citation given to a 14-year-old protestor. Wells said the boy’s mother insisted that police ticket her son, when they cited her.
Wells also said no one will be ticketed for sharing a sandwich or part of their lunch with anyone, anywhere in El Cajon, and he said people can still feed the homeless in an organized fashion, as long they follow health department rules and city laws.