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New Report: The Criminalization of Food-Sharing Practices

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness, Civil Rights, Community Organizing, Food Sharing

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On Tuesday, October 21, Fort Lauderdale Commissioners will vote on a proposed ordinance that will severely limit the capabilities of groups to distribute food to people experiencing homelessness. According to our research, over 30 American cities that have tried to introduce similar legislation in the past two years.

The new report, Share No More: The Criminalization of Efforts to Feed People In Needdocuments the recent known cases of food-sharing restrictions throughout the country. Since January 2013, 21 cities have restricted the practice of sharing food with people who are experiencing homelessness while at least ten others have introduced ordinances that are pending approval.

These restrictions primarily come about in three different forms; the first is by restricting the use of public property. In this scenario, individuals and organizations are generally required to obtain a permit, often for a fee, to share food in a park or in another public space. 12 cities have recently passed legislation that imposes this type of restriction.

The second type of legislative restriction is to require groups to comply with city/county/state food-safety regulations. Since January 2013, four cities have passed legislation that required individuals and organizations to comply with their food-safety regulations when sharing food with people experiencing homelessness.

The last method utilized to deter food-sharing are 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 join together to put pressure on local government or directly on individuals and organizations that share food with people experiencing homelessness. These groups are harassed and in result feel compelled to relocate their food-sharing efforts or cut the program all together. Since January 2013, four cities have successfully utilized this tactic, with local community pressure, to pass legislation to restrict sharing food with people experiencing homelessness.

Share No MoreThis year’s food-sharing report attempts to address the myths and motivations that often drive the demand for food-sharing restrictions. While the evidence is overwhelming that this practice is too common, there are some success stories that prove that these restrictions do not need to stand. Citizens can use the same community pressure to stop these laws from taking effect. Some faith-based organizations have led the fight to protect their First Amendment Right to openly practice their religion. There are a number of policies we can advocate for on the local, state, and federal level to protect the civil rights of those experiencing homelessness.

Since January, 2013 the following 22 cities have passed ordinances that restrict the food-sharing process.

Public Property:

Food Safety:

Forced Relocation:

  • Fort Lauderdale, FL
  • Lake Worth, FL
  • Daytona Beach, FL
  • Houston, TX
  • Shawnee, OK
  • Costa Mesa, CA
  • Chico, CA
  • Hayward, CA
  • Manchester, NH
  • Olympia, WA
  • Columbia, SC
  • Medford, OR
  • Raleigh, NC
  • Salt Lake City, UT
  • Myrtle Beach, SC
  • St. Louis, Missouri
  • Pasadena, CA
  • Lafayette, IN
  • Harrisburg, PA
  • Seattle WA
  • Charlotte, NC
  • St. Petersburg, FL

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

How are Tourism and Homelessness Related?

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Civil Rights, Criminalization, Food Sharing

Unintended Consequences: Leaving a Wake of High Living Costs in Tourist Destinations – By Julia Chambers

In recent years, Americans have become increasingly interested in the idea of responsible tourism. Many seek the most authentic and local experiences possible, but they do not necessarily consider how their presence may alter the place or the lives of the people who live there. The priority of responsible tourism is to minimize that impact. Most discussions about sustainable tourism, ecotourism, etc. are generally focused on places like Costa Rica, Kenya, or Thailand, but how are the trips that we take, our spring break trips and honeymoons, impacting the places we visit domestically?

It is no coincidence that we see the densest homeless populations in locations that are also desirable tourist destinations. While they arrive for different reasons, a decent climate is highly sought after and can reduce the burden of everyday life and survival. Tourists travel to warm places like Fort Lauderdale, San Diego and Honolulu to decompress and escape the cold winters. People experiencing homelessness also gravitate to these destinations for a bit of added security, because even if they cannot find any rental assistance or a place in a shelter, they can live more comfortably outside without the daily threat of hypothermia/hyperthermia that they might face in more dramatic climates. Visible homelessness is certainly higher in these locations.

Not all homeless individuals in these climates have travelled to arrive there. The truth is that a quality tourism industry is a powerful economic tool, which unfortunately does not always benefit the whole community. Many individuals experiencing homelessness in these sites have lived there for long periods of time and eventually could not keep up with the constantly-increasing, astronomical cost of living. Home prices and services are too expensive for the average citizen and access to basic necessities, like low-cost grocery stores, is often scarce. Jobs can be limited and many times reserved for skilled outside labor. The hospitality industry, for example, is very competitive; local talent is rarely developed and hardly ever brought into management roles. Orlando serves as an outstanding example of how a single tourist destination, like Disney world, can inflate the cost of living so high that the minimum wage workers keeping the destination running can hardly afford to live within a reasonable distance of the site. In an isolated state like Hawaii, there is fierce competition over job opportunities, even minimum wage work. Without massive job development on the part of the tourism industry, locals will be left with no work and nowhere else to go to look for employment. Even those with jobs are constantly at risk of falling into homelessness, as wages are inadequate to comfortably support a family.

If one were to fall into a state of homelessness, he or she could expect an exceptionally challenging future. Navigating shelter systems, housing authorities, and other service agencies is exhausting and difficult, but in high-tourism zones, those are just a few of the struggles that homeless individuals will face. In states like Florida, California and Hawaii, localities have enacted legislation that effectively criminalizes homelessness, in hopes of pushing the problem out of sight. Governments in these states have even purchased one-way bus or plane tickets for people experiencing homelessness in order to get them out of their jurisdictions. 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.

HONOLULU-CRIMINALIZATION

Sadly, more often they will enact numerous so-called “quality of life” laws that they can use to collect and jail homeless individuals in periodic sweeps. Some examples of laws that are in place are bans on sitting/laying on public sidewalks, bans on begging or panhandling, prohibition of the use of blankets, chairs, tents, etc. in public places, and bans on sharing food with homeless people in public parks. Not only do these laws neglect the immediate needs of people experiencing homelessness, they actually punish them for their current circumstances. They are inherently flawed and will fail to assist in any effort to end homelessness in this country.

Honolulu’s current war on the homeless is perhaps the most concerning, where nightly sweeps and increasing numbers of anti-homeless ordinances are forcing homeless individuals to constantly relocate, but this is taking place all over the country, and not only in tourist destinations. We need to stand together and shout that it is not acceptable for our neighbors to be targeted and jailed simply for being poor.

The 10 Most Ridiculous Anti-Homeless Laws – Part II

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Awareness, Civil Rights, Criminalization, Food Sharing, Tent Cities

The National Coalition for the Homeless would like to offer a preview of our upcoming report on the criminalization of homelessness by choosing the top ten most ridiculous anti-homeless policies enacted in cities across America. Our criminalization report will offer narratives for many more cities and occurrences than the ones listed here, as well as rank the nation’s ten “meanest” cities. This post counts down our choices for the 5 most ridiculous anti-homeless laws/actions. An earlier article ranking policies 10 through 6 is available.

10 Most Ridiculous Anti-Homeless Laws
~From 2010 through June 2011~

 5. Panhandling Bans – Multiple Cities

A rapidly increasing number of cities are designating areas where it is illegal to ask for any item of value. In Miami FL, for instance, panhandling is not allowed around American Airlines Arena and other tourist-heavy areas. Dallas TX also banned panhandling in popular tourist destinations in preparation for hosting the Super Bowl. Some cities, like St. Petersburg FL, even issued bans that cover the entire city.

Despite laws already being in place to guard against “aggressive” panhandling and asking for help clearly being a first amendment right, the courts have had mixed conclusions on these ordinances. An appellate court in New York said that such bans are unconstitutional, while panhandling bans for certain areas, such as around ATM’s and banks, were upheld in Minneapolis MN.

Oakland Park FL decided to take their roadway panhandling ban a step further: not only is it illegal to ask for anything of value, it is also illegal to give. In the name of traffic safety, anyone caught giving to or purchasing something from anybody on the road can face either a fine of $50 to $100 or up to 90 days in jail.

4. Camping Bans – Multiple Cities

Some cities, including Anchorage AK and Kansas City MO, have passed “anti-camping” ordinances and are destroying homeless camps both within metropolitan areas, such as those under bridges and in abandoned lots, and deep within parks and forests. Many municipalities interpret “camping” to mean setting up structures such as tents, while others will issue citations for simply using a sleeping bag because it provides shelter from the elements. For example, Salt Lake City UT has produced horror stories of people receiving camping citations for sitting on their backpack in a park.

Police “sweeps” of homeless camps, which are intended to clear out residents and their makeshift shelters, have resulted in the loss of very important property, such as medication, birth certificates, ID, and personal mementos. Due to legal challenges nationwide, like one in Portland OR and another in Sacramento CA, many cities that perform these sweeps have instituted systems to provide warning time to campers and to retain their seized belongings for a fixed period of time. Without this process, numerous homeless victims have illegally lost what little property they had, and even with it many more still stand to lose their belongings due to the difficulty of retrieving it. Ultimately, these crackdowns on homeless camps only waste taxpayer money and cause unnecessary hardship in order to move the problem of homelessness instead of solve it by providing adequate access to housing and services.

3. Sit/Lie Ban – San Francisco, California

“Stand up for the right to sit down!” This is the rally cry of those who are protesting a San Francisco ordinance that makes it illegal to sit or lie down on the city’s sidewalks between 7 am and 11 pm. The city claims that the ordinance is intended to limit panhandling and to reduce San Francisco’s homeless population by discouraging homeless people from living there. Opponents say that it is unconstitutional to force somebody to walk and stand all day simply because they have nowhere to go. Similar ordinances exist in cities across the country, including Austin TX, Seattle WA, and Reno NV to name a few.

2. Food Sharing Limits – Orlando, Florida

Since when is it illegal to give somebody food? In Orlando FL, it has been since April 2011, when a group of activists lost a court battle against the city to overturn its 2006 laws that restrict sharing food with groups of more than 25 people. The ordinance requires those who do these “large” charitable food sharings in parks within two miles of City Hall to obtain a permit and limits each group to two permits per park for a year. Food sharing is considered to be a form of speech, but the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the ordinance still provides ample areas for groups to practice their first amendment rights because they can still share food elsewhere in the city.

The law was not enforced during the legal battle, but after the lawsuit against the city failed, Orlando began cracking down on those who chose to defy the ordinance, resulting in multiple arrests of activists from Food Not Bombs. “‘They basically carted them off to jail for feeding hungry people,’ said [Douglas Coleman from Orlando Food Not Bombs]. ‘For them to regulate a time and place for free speech and to share food, that is unacceptable.’”

Food sharing prohibitions are far from a new development and are not only found in Orlando. In 2010, NCH and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty released a report on the growing popularity of these ordinances.

1. Sleeping Bans – Multiple Cities

Many city ordinances that ban public sleeping, like one in Santa Cruz CA, refer to all sleeping in public as “camping,” but the act of camping is interpreted in this article to be the use of personal shelter, such as a tent, and those laws are addressed in #4 of this list. Number one on our countdown is focused on ordinances that strictly ban all public sleeping outright, which includes cities such as Santa Cruz that make sleeping outside illegal in a de facto manner via a “camping” ordinance’s broad interpretation and enforcement.

No other type of law can quite compare to these bans when it comes to the overt criminalization of homelessness: it is undeniable that people experiencing homelessness are the only segment of the population commonly affected by ordinances that do not allow sleeping outside. To exacerbate the problem, many places with these laws, like Ashland OR, simply do not have enough shelter and services to offer violators.

Thankfully, courts have usually required cities with these ordinances to have enough shelter space available for every offender, as was the case in San Diego CA. But this policy ignores that shelters, which usually have curfews, tough crowds, and crammed beds, are not necessarily the most desirable places to live, so many people would much rather stay on the street than in what are sometimes “jail-like” places. And all too often the homeless have no choice: in St. Petersburg FL, those caught sleeping on the sidewalk are told that they can either go to a shelter or a real jail, denying them the option of avoiding systematic and strict harboring altogether. In the end, these policies can severely hurt people experiencing homelessness, resulting in jail time, outstanding fines, and a restriction of their freedoms.

For more information on the criminalization of homelessness, you can visit our 2009 Homes Not Handcuffs Report and our 2010 report on Food Sharing Prohibitions.

By Daniel Honeycutt, NCH Intern

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