By CBSNewYork Team

NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — The city of Newark is trying to restrict who can hand out food to people experiencing homelessness.

The mayor says a permit will now be required, but as CBS2’s Nick Caloway reports, Newark officials originally tried to ban giving food in public places altogether.

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Sack lunches were hand-packed by high school students at Saint Teresa of Avila Parish in Summit, adorned with warm wishes for those living on the cold streets of Newark.

“That’s what Christ would do, right? Especially this time of the year,” said Cassandra Bosquet, with Saint Teresa of Avila Parish.

But the new policy could make that act of kindness a crime.

In November, the city of Newark sent a letter to churches and relief groups that a new ordinance would “prohibit the feeding of residents without addresses in Penn Station, the surrounding areas, and all city parks.”

Later, the city back-peddled and said feeding people is OK, but only with a permit.

CBS2 asked Mayor Ras Baraka why.

“There are people who feed the homeless who don’t have good intentions. People don’t see it from that perspective. There are homeless people that get sick, people that have given homeless fentanyl,” he said.

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Safety aside, a permitting process could allow the city to keep better track of who exactly is doing homeless outreach and a more connected system could get more people housed.

That’s according to Richard Uniacke, president of Bridges Outreach.

“The entire community will be able to do a better job of coming together for that simple goal of objectively and sustainably ending homelessness,” he said.

But others say it’s a failed strategy.

Josiah Haken, chief program officer with City Relief, said getting people a good meal is often the first step to getting them off the streets and more red tape could mean those in need can’t get the help they need.

“If you have a policy that sort of penalizes people for being down on their luck and sort of makes life harder for them, what that does is, it’s a message to those individuals that, ‘We don’t want you here. You’re not welcome,’” he said.

Several relief groups told CBS2 they plan to get a permit, but that the city has given no guidance on how to actually obtain one, so they’re in the dark.

The city said violating the order could result in fines and penalties, but the mayor did not mention how much those fines would cost.

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CBS2’s Nick Caloway contributed to this report.

CBSNewYork Team