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Illegal to be a Good Samaritan

Written by admin on . Posted in Awareness, Civil Rights, Criminalization, Food Sharing, Hunger

When did we start expecting that sharing a meal with the hungry and homeless is illegal?

Homeless People Deserve Food TooNCH often receives calls from generous individuals and organizations who wish to feed the homeless in their city.  They call with reasonable questions, aware of the potential illegality of helping others, to ask about food distribution bans or restrictions in their area.  Within the last two years (2013-2015) over 26 cities and communities have passed laws restricting the distribution of food to the homeless, and the number is growing every year.  Those kind enough to want to feed the hungry must jump through hoops and navigate red tape simply to share food with others.

Food-sharing restrictions do not address the root causes of homelessness and poverty in the United States.  Instead, they create barriers for those trying to help.  And yet, over time, these restrictions on food sharing have become the norm.  The idea that sharing meals with others should be regulated by the law is no longer a surprise to most people, in fact, it is expected.

Our societal entrenchment in rules and regulations slows our ability to express kindness and generosity for others.  In order to address poverty, hunger, and homelessness, we must find a way to break free of this attitudinal obstacle and take thoughtful action, free of restraint.

Take a look at our October, 2014 report “Share No More: The Criminalization of Efforts to Feed People in Need” for more details on the state of bans in the country.

-Kara Kennedy
NCH Summer Intern

No Picnic in the Park

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Awareness, Community Organizing, Criminalization, Food Sharing

Don’t Even Think About Having a Picnic in the Park, by Michael Stoops, Director of Community Organizing

We are facing a moral crisis. Cities pursuing higher tourism revenues and greater economic development have declared a war on their poor residents. Unfortunately, it is perceived that those who are living without homes effectively “taint” the scenic vistas and make visitors uncomfortable. More than ever, tourism hot-spots are targeting people who are homeless by passing laws that force them to the outskirts of town or into jails. Popular destinations often treat these individuals like riff-raff and criminals, arresting them for menial crimes in an effort to keep them from unconsciously photo-bombing a couple’s photo of their trip.

When the economy is so reliant on tourism dollars, it is natural for a local government or tourism board to take complaints seriously. Often times, tourists complain that they feel unsafe or uncomfortable around homeless individuals. The reputation of a destination can be tarnished so quickly, it is almost remarkable to see how agile governments can be in responding to economic threats. They generally first introduce bans to keep people from sleeping in the most visited parts of town. Sometimes they will open up a resource center far from the center of town to try to lure homeless people away from the hot spots. Sadly, more often they will enact numerous so-called “quality of life” laws that they can use to round up and jail homeless individuals in periodic sweeps. Some examples of laws that are in place are bans on sitting on a sidewalk or sleeping in a park, bans on begging or panhandling, and prohibition of the use of blankets, chairs, tents, pillows, etc.

We all know the detrimental impacts a criminal record can have on the futures of low-income individuals. Being locked-up can preclude a homeless individual from ever being able to find future employment or stable housing, leaving them exposed and likely to get swept up in this broken system all over again.

These efforts even extend to those who are trying to help. 39 US cities actively punish individuals and groups that operate food-sharing programs, trying to offer their homeless neighbors basic sustenance. In Fort Lauderdale, Arnold Abbott, a 91-year-old World War 2 Veteran who has been running a food-sharing program twice a week for 24 years, has been wrapped up in these issues for years. Despite a court victory in the 1990s, protecting his religious freedom to feed those in need, he has received three court summons since the passage of the City’s latest anti-homeless law in October. With the threat of $1,500 in fines and up to 180 days in jail, he continues to support his homeless neighbors, acknowledging the importance of a consistent program that meets them where they are to minimize the challenges associated with receiving proper nutrition. He maintains that he has the constitutional right to continue preparing meals and will continue to do so despite any personal consequences.

When showing compassion becomes illegal, we know we have a serious problem to tackle. The perception of poverty in places like Fort Lauderdale is so tainted with generalizations and assumptions that almost no person who is down on his/her luck has a chance. Communities that pass these inhumane laws are not apt to take proactive solutions and give people a chance. They react to bad stigmas and punish people for trying to survive. If we cannot appeal to them on a human level, we must take a broader stance and try to communicate just how little we stand for this type of injustice. We must make these cities feel the consequences of these inhumane actions.

Students Promoting Fairness

We at the National Coalition for the Homeless are calling on all conscientious citizens to pledge that they will not invest in this kind of discrimination. Our expectations of poverty-free clean beaches are unrealistic and encourage unjust practices. Recently, we have seen increased interest in eco-tourism and other forms of environmentally sustainable travel; the time has come to support conscious consumers who elect to travel to respectful and compassionate destinations. As tourists, we must all put people first and consider the human consequences of our decisions.

Fort Lauderdale has been one of the most egregious culprits. The city rapidly passed the largest number of bans in one year that I have ever seen, culminating with its infamous food-sharing restrictions. In the uproar, following the City’s decision to essentially ban compassion, thousands of individuals have stepped up and taken action. College students have pledged to not spend their spring breaks in this town that mistreats its do-gooders and its vulnerable citizens. They are committed to selecting destinations with more moral integrity. We hope that companies too will vow not to host meetings in a place that has arrested a ninety-one year old on multiple occasions for sharing food with the homeless population. We will all choose fairness over everything!

Join our pledge!

Guest Post: It’s My Pain

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Awareness

2015 is a year to take action!

2015_Poem

A Poem by Linda Meyer

In my life I’ve been sad to hear, 
those that don’t care about others, their message is clear. 
“Pick yourself up by your bootstraps” I hear them exclaim,
they care naught for my circumstances, I cannot; It’s my pain.

When you’ve no money, no address, no phone,
no one will hire you, you’re out on your own. 
In this time of high technology, when most businesses hire from online,
having no computer, I can’t put in applications. I haven’t got a dime. 

No transportation to go to a job, no housing, no address, leaves me in a lurch.
So I sit here, and you watch me with wary eyes from your perch,
You assume I committing a crime, just by sitting on a bench.
You assume I’m an addict due to my aromatic stench.

I don’t have a home, no shower, no clean clothes,
For it is I and those who are like me that you do your best to loathe.
Your unwanted assumptions are my cross to bear,
I wonder if you really see me, if you could really care.

Humanity needs to come full circle, to care about each other,
It wasn’t that long ago you see, but now no one wants to bother.
The tribes of the past, used to share and make sure all were taken care of,
No one went hungry, or unsheltered, or unloved.

A lesson for humanity should be given once again on the range,
the ones who are oppressed are the ones who can make change,
but only if we all stick together, regardless of our lot.
We only have each other, and that is all that we’ve got.

So fight for all humanity, against the hoarded greed,
With kindness and fairness, we can all be freed
from this giant rat race, we can live together, and amend
and let the planet heal from our wars on each other, and be better humans once again.

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