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Homeless People Deserve Food Too

  • Homeless People Deserve Food Too46 million Americans visit food-sharing programs annually. It is estimated that one out of every six Americans go hungry on a daily basis. When one considers the subcategory of homeless individuals and other at-risk populations, hunger is too prevalent to quantify. Inadequate nourishment directly results in innumerable physical, mental, and emotional health consequences that lead to heavy cost burdens, further health concerns, and even death. Addressing hunger is a moral imperative, which draws in thousands of volunteers who feel compelled to help their neighbors in need.

    Furthermore, there are numerous stress-factors that homeless individuals must face everyday. One must think about shelter, nutrition, health concerns, and employment as well as fears of being vulnerable to violence and arrest. When people experiencing homelessness can depend on consistent, reliable food-sharing programs, they can at least be sure that their most basic need will be met. Too often, it can be a full-time job keeping track of where and when these programs are available. It is a huge physical and emotional strain to walk the long distances between these programs, with hopes of not missing the narrow window available to receive a meal. Programs that meet homeless individuals where they are, generally in public spaces, are paramount. Not only are people generally more comfortable accepting help, but they save time and energy, which they may use to address their other needs.

    Many argue that outdoor food-sharing programs are detrimental to the system because there is no opportunity to connect homeless individuals with services they may require. Meals should not come quid pro quo. A need so basic must be addressed in any way it can be, without deference to the location of social service resources. A number of individuals have mixed feelings towards shelters and food pantries where they are expected to go. Like food, important service providers like healthcare professionals and caseworkers should meet this population where they are.
  • Food-sharing restrictions refer to the legislative actions taken by cities to limit how, where, and how often groups/individuals may share food with people experiencing homelessness. Most commonly, these restrictions impose strict regulations over the use of public spaces. They might require the a group to purchase a permit, which can vary in cost and availability.  As is the case in the most recent example of Fort Lauderdale, cities may also require feeding programs to be hosted at sites more than 150 feet away from other programs and residential communities that are equipped with certain amenities like rest rooms or hand-washing stations. While these may seem like reasonable requests, they are often associated with significant costs and a lot of red tape, which can be deterring to many potential volunteers and service organizations. 

    Some city's require groups to comply with stringent food-safety regulations, restricting where the food may be prepared and distributed. There are even examples of cities that confine organizations to preparing meals in professional-grade kitchens. This is a huge imposition and deterrent for most groups operating on small budgets.

    One will occasionally see food-sharing programs be forced to relocate from one location to another because of the force of community actions driven by the principle of “Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY)”. Often, local businesses and homeowners do not want to attract people experiencing homelessness to their community and join together to put pressure on local government or directly on individuals and organizations that share food with people experiencing homelessness. 

  • According to NCH records, 71 cities have attempted to restrict food-sharing practices. 
    Attempted Restrictions

    As of November, 2014 the following cities have active legislation that enforces some form of restriction on food-sharing practices:
    • Birmingham, AL
    • Cedar Rapids, IA
    • Charlotte, NC
    • Chico, CA
    • Columbia, SC
    • Corpus Christi, TX
    • Costa Mesa, CA
    • Dallas, TX
    • Davenport, IA
    • Dayton, OH
    • Daytona Beach, FL
    • Fort Lauderdale, FL
    • Gainesville, FL
    • Harrisburg, PA
    • Hayward, CA
    • Houston, TX
    • Indianapolis, IN
    • Kansas City, MO
    • Lafayette, IN
    • Los Angeles, CA
    • Malibu, CA
    • Manchester, NH
    • Medford, OR
    • Myrtle Beach, SC
    • Nashville, TN
    • Ocean Beach, CA
    • Olympia, WA
    • Orlando, FL
    • Pasadena, CA
    • Raleigh, NC
    • St. Louis, MO
    • St. Petersburg, FL
    • Sacramento, CA
    • Salt Lake City, UT
    • Santa Monica, CA
    • Seattle, WA
    • Shawnee, OK
    • Ventura, CA
    • Wilmington, NC

    For more information about food-sharing restrictions please read this year's report and/or contact the National Coalition for the Homeless.

    To prevent your city from joining this list, push your local government to adopt a Homeless Bill of Rights that will protect their rights to use public spaces.

  • Cities tend to claim that they are acting in concern for the well-being of its homeless residents. In most cases, they believe these restrictions will ensure that they are receiving safe food in an area where they can be connected with social services. These are fine ambitions, but so rarely the reality.

    Most often, there is an objection to having groups of homeless people congregate in public spaces, where the 'quality of life' of housed citizens may be affected. In major tourist destinations, especially, cities fear the impacts of visible homelessness on their economic viability. By criminalizing food-sharing in public spaces, they are able to push the homeless out of sight, much like similar efforts to criminalize panhandling and/or lying down in public places.

  • Fort Lauderdale, FL was the most recent city to restrict the practice of food-sharing on October 31, 2014. Within three days, the city began issuing summons to individuals who had long-standing meal distribution programs on the beach and in the city's parks. Among those facing the $500 fine and jail time were Arnold Abbott, a 90-year-old volunteer, and two pastors. The law prohibits groups from distributing food in outdoor locations. A petition by Arnold Abbott can be found below. Speak up and tell the City of Fort Lauderdale that you will not stand for such cruel anti-homeless laws.

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