Woman sharing food with houseless population voices frustration over food permit ordinance

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Ashley Poulin talks to the BMA. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

MANCHESTER, N.H. – During the public comment section of Tuesday’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA) meeting, Ashley Poulin, also known as the “Soup Ladee,” voiced her frustration with the Manchester Health Department after being denied the opportunity to serve food to houseless people in the city.

Poulin told the board about an incident where she was told that under Section 117.15 of Manchester’s City Ordinance, she could not serve tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches to houseless individuals without a permit required for any food-service establishment.

Under Chapter 117.19, non-profit organizations without a liquor permit not serving meals on a daily basis are not required to pay a fee for a permit, but Poulin requested that anyone providing food to less than 50 houseless individuals should be exempted from having to obtain a permit required for food-service establishments.

“I am not an establishment, I am a person who makes a veggie-filled dinner a few times a week and shares it with my neighbors,” she said. “It’s solidarity, not charity. I too have been a hungry person in my life.”

After Poulin shared her comments, colleague Dam Wright echoed Poulin’s statement, saying that the risk of illness to those receiving the food was minor compared to the potential of starvation that the city’s houseless population faces.

Wright demanded that the BMA address the issue, threatening to reach out to the American Civil Liberties Union and pursue a lawsuit against the city if action wasn’t taken.

“We didn’t elect the city health department, we elected you and you oversee our city departments,” he said. “You, the elected officials who sit around here tonight and are responsible for writing and fixing the city’s ordinances and making sure enforcement is both correct and reasonable. You need to fix this.”

In a statement to Manchester Ink Link prior to the meeting, Manchester Deputy Public Health Director Philip Alexakos said that health department is obligated to investigate all complaints related to food service and public health complaints under state law.

He added no permit is required to distribute commercially pre-packaged non-perishable foods and beverages or non-cut fruits and vegetables. He also acknowledged the issue of food insecurity in the city and efforts by the Manchester Health Department to address the issue through efforts such as the Healthy Corner Stores Initiative.

“The Manchester Health Department applies the food service regulations, consistently and fairly,” he said. “We are and have been committed to ensuring that food provided to all citizens is prepared in a safe manner, as the public expects. Our staff is committed to providing people/groups with safe and compliant options to address this issue.”

About this Author


Andrew Sylvia

Assistant EditorManchester Ink Link

Born and raised in the Granite State, Andrew Sylvia has written approximately 10,000 pieces over his career for outlets across Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. On top of that, he's a licensed notary and licensed to sell property, casualty and life insurance, he's been a USSF trained youth soccer and futsal referee for the past six years and he can name over 60 national flags in under 60 seconds according to that flag game app he has on his phone, which makes sense because he also has a bachelor's degree in geography (like Michael Jordan). He can also type over 100 words a minute on a good day.