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

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Author: DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

  • sheknows

    Thank you for this article Dorian. Here in Omaha, space is very limited in shelters. Primarily because no one foresaw that this economic recession would create so many new cases. Whole families are living in cars. Many take up residence in secluded park areas up in the hills during the summer and use campgrounds to wash and get water.
    I know two groups who drop off groceries for several people up in the tents.
    The very last thing I care about, or any real human cares about is breaking a law like this. Bring on the thumb screws!!

    People who pass laws to prevent the assistance of those in need, on ANY level are morally vacant and spiritually deranged. I ignore them.

  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    The very last thing I care about, or any real human cares about is breaking a law like this. Bring on the thumb screws!!

    Amen, SK.

    As the report pretty much says, many people who object do so because they feel “uncomfortable” seeing the homeless in “their” parks, “their” streets, “their” neighborhoods, etc.

    You know, it is so “unsightly,” and, worse, it may tug at our conscience.

  • PJBFan

    I favor these wonderful people, and echo the sentiments of both Dorian and sheknows on this issue. Rare, I know.

    I suggest that each state follow Utah’s example, and, instead of giving homeless people shelters and food and the like, give them homes. That will help our homeless in many ways. Furthermore, it is significantly cheaper to use this model than the traditional model.

  • ordinarysparrow

    Homeless are the most vulnerable population, do they even get to vote since they are not able to provide an address?

    Why is the ongoing war on homelessness not a violation of Human Rights?

    Is this not a matter of human rights?

    Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1946)
    Article 25….. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

    “Everyone has a right to an adequate standard of living…including the right to housing.”

    or

    If i am at the park and hungry and Dorian gives me a sandwich and is not subject to arrest but if he gives one to a homeless person and is subject to arrest then why would that not be blatant discrimination?

    I took the time to read through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and it seems to me that banning food for those that are homeless is clearly a discrimination and violation of rights, if it is acceptable for a non homeless person to eat in the park if given a meal by someone else?

    Maybe i am being simple minded here, but it seems like discrimination of the most egregious kind.

  • sheknows

    Absolutely great point OS.
    Somehow I wouldn’t be surprised if these sleezoids didn’t word these very carefully to avoid any violations.
    But you bring up an excellent point. Does a permanent address legitimize your taking a sandwich from someone? LOL..that is insane. No permanent address,… no sandwich.

    There is a poverty of the soul far greater than of the flesh.

  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    I took the time to read through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and it seems to me that banning food for those that are homeless is clearly a discrimination and violation of rights,

    Correct, OS. The report refers to such declarations and conventions:

    Such restrictions also raise human rights concerns. The right to food is a recognized human right, explicitly addressed in over 120 instruments of international law since 1920 and included in the domestic constitutions of 22 nations.

    The International Convention on Economic, Social and
    Cultural Rights (ICESCR) explains that states have an obligation to respect, protect and fulfill certain rights. For the right to food this means a state, or nation, must not take action resulting in preventing access to food, must ensure that enterprises or individuals do not deprive someone of their access to food, and must take proactive action to increase access to food.

  • epiphyte

    Didn’t you see the sign? … it says “Do not feed the animals.”

    Being reminded of the existence of the untermensch might detract from upstanding citizens enjoyment of the public parks.

    I don’t believe in Hell – but sometimes I indulge myself and imagine that there’s a special part of it reserved for people who think that way…

  • DR. CLARISSA PINKOLA ESTÉS, Managing Editor of TMV, and Columnist

    i feed the hungry. Jesus said so.

    So come get me.
    Come get all of us, we’ll raise the roof off the jailhouse with our singing

  • The_Ohioan

    It would seem the odds would be against a possible loony who wanted to get rid of homeless people through poisoning (which is the only viable reason I can think of to forbid individuals to feed the homeless). After all, even if that happened, who would be left to sue the town?