The Crime of Feeding the Homeless

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I know that there must be law and order, public health, and other — I am sure readers will come up with more — reasons for stopping some good-hearted people from feeding the homeless, the hungry, in a public park, but I do find it sad and have to resort to the cliché, “don’t these law-and-order people have more urgent law-and-order work to do?”

Chico and Debbie Jimenez, a Christian husband and wife team, have been feeding the hungry at a Daytona Beach park every week for more than a year — until the good Daytona Beach police, enforcing a city ordinance, stopped them, fined them and banned them from the park.

Read more and watch the video here

Apparently such actions are quite common around these United States.

A July 2010 report by the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (A Place at the Table: Prohibitions on Sharing Food with People Experiencing Homelessness ) addresses how cities choose to “implement measures that criminalize homelessness and, at times, penalize those who serve homeless persons,” often targeting activities homeless people are forced to do in public spaces because of their lack of a home or shelter.

The report “specifically focuses on ordinances, policies, and tactics that discourage or prohibit individuals and groups from sharing food with homeless persons. Uncomfortable with visible homelessness in their communities and influenced by myths about homeless people’s food access, cities use food sharing restrictions to move homeless people out of sight, an action that often exacerbates the challenges people experiencing homelessness face each day just to survive.” (emphasis mine)

It also “highlights constructive alternatives to food sharing restrictions, in the form of innovative programs that both adults and youth are implementing to share food with people experiencing homelessness in their communities.”

The report recommends:

• Cities should collaborate with food sharing groups to effectively address the problems ofhunger and homelessness. Local authorities should reach out to food sharing groups to coordinate the provision of food and educate providers on how to help homeless persons access emergency and social services.

• Communities should assist homeless persons in accessing federal, state, and local food security benefits, including SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program], WIC [Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)], and child nutrition programs.

And more.

These are some of the report’s conclusions:

• Access to food is a basic, well-recognized human right. When a person is experiencing homelessness, he or she often loses consistent access to food, in addition to shelter. When sharing food is limited or prohibited, cities are violating that right.

• Harmful myths about homeless people and their access to food lead to attitudes and laws that penalize food sharing in public settings. Local soup kitchens and food pantries have neither the capacity nor quantity of food to meet the needs of people experiencing homelessness and hunger in their communities. It is a false assumption that all people who are homeless are well enough or physically able to travel to the specific locations where food is served or distributed indoors.Food sharing in public settings allows for the most vulnerable population to have access to food.It is, perhaps, the only way they have the opportunity to access healthy, safe food. This connection between homeless people and food sharing groups can be the first step for those individuals to find out about services that would move them out of homelessness and into housing.

• Although some communities have created models of providing food to homeless individuals and are addressing hunger among the homeless population, many others continue to target organizations that share food and homeless people through food sharing restrictions. When individuals and groups are penalized for sharing food, cities are not simply denying access to food, but taking measures that are inhumane, and sometimes contrary to domestic and international law. Creating or arbitrarily enforcing ordinances for the sole purpose of prohibiting food sharing or moving homeless people out of sight ignores the root causes of homelessness, such as lack of affordable housing, shelter space, social services, and job opportunities.

• When individuals and groups have extra food to share with others who go without, they should not be denied the opportunity to do so. As the country continues to feel the effect of the current economic crisis, more men, women and children are facing homelessness and hunger. Only by expanding and strengthening existing federal nutrition programs, increasing collaboration between cities and service providers, and continuing to develop new innovative programs to address hunger can the great need begin to be met.

Read more here. A lot of food for thought and absolutely no pun intended.

Lead image: www.shutterstock.com

Author: DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist