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“Voluntary Hunger in Protest of Involuntary Hunger”

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness, Civil Rights, Policy Advocacy

By: Brian Stone

Today, it seems as though there is normalized acceptance of a segment of our population not having enough food or shelter. The proof is last week’s budget cuts which will push those without food, homes and medical care into deeper despair. It is important that we remember what hangs in the balance. In the past, the anti-hunger and poverty movement has responded in a multitude of ways. One of those is known as a hunger fast (or strike) to draw public awareness to the issues the poor face and create policy change.

In the 1980’s Michael Stoops, Director of Community Organizing at NCH, and Mitch Snyder, a life-time advocate for the homeless, fasted on the steps of the Capitol Building to pressure President Reagan into signing the first legislative protection for homeless people, which eventually became the McKinney-Vento Act. This act provided blanket protection and assistance to the homeless. Mitch and other advocates also fasted to get the federal government to transform an abandoned federal building in D.C. into a shelter for the homeless. Out of this fast the Community for Creative Non-Violence (CCNV) emerged, and remains D.C.’s largest shelter.

Former Ambassador Tony Hall has an unwavering commitment to poor people and poverty issues. While in Congress, Hall frequently authored legislation with expansive protections for the poor and vulnerable. In 1993, Hall, who was an Ohio Congressman at the time, was dismayed by Congress’s decision to end the bi-partisan House Select Committee on Hunger. This resulted in his going on a 22-day hunger fast. He felt that Congress had lost sight of the issues that our most vulnerable face. The outcome of this fast was substantial. Congress agreed to fund the Congressional Hunger Center, of which I am honored to be a 17th Class fellow; and the World Bank pledged to support efforts to end world hunger.

Eighteen years later Hall feels that Congress has once again lost sight of the plight of the poor, those who stand to bare the brunt of the budget cuts. On March 28, 2011, Hall embarked on another fast to protest the current budget cuts. If you would like to join Tony Hall or get more information on the fast, check out: http://hungerfast.org/.

We must remember that people’s lives hang in the balance. What is more important than cuts made in the name of lowering the deficit is the impact that those cuts will have on a large group of people. Balancing the budget at the expense of the poor and vulnerable is not the answer. This will only prove to further complicate the lives of those who currently don’t have enough, with the likely end result being eventual increases in social support programs.

Hunger fasts, like Michael’s, Mitch’s, Tony’s and many others, have provided protections for the vulnerable and changed policy in the U.S. The time is now. Will you join the circle of protection around the most vulnerable members of our society?

Brian is a Bill Emerson National Hunger Fellow with the Civil Rights division at the National Coalition for the Homeless.

Is it legal to restrict food-sharing?

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

By Jackie Dowd

The food-sharing in downtown Orlando went on as usual last Wednesday night, despite the decision by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld the city’s ordinance restricting groups and individuals from sharing food with homeless and hungry people in public parks.

The 2-1 ruling, handed down on July 6, overturned a trial court’s determination that the food-sharing events were expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment. The federal appeals court found that the likelihood was not great that a reasonable observer would understand Orlando Food Not Bombs’ conduct of simply feeding people to be “truly communicative.”

The court also ruled that the ordinance does not violate the right to free exercise of religion by the First Vagabonds Church of God, a ministry by and for the homeless. The ordinance applies to about 40 of Orlando’s 99 parks, and limits food-sharing events to two per park per year.

In the wake of the court decision: What’s next?

Way back at the beginning of this case, we told ourselves: “If we win, then we win. But even if we lose, we win.”

That’s because even then, in the summer of 2006, we were thinking about the big picture. What the First Vagabonds Church of God v. City of Orlando lawsuit accomplished was to bring the discussion of homelessness and poverty out into the open in Orlando, in a way that it never has before. Making sure that discussion continues is vitally important, and that will be an important consideration in deciding what the next steps will be.

There are several legal options, such as seeking a rehearing before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. We have a few more days to decide exactly what to do.

Many people have asked why we didn’t pursue a freedom of assembly claim. At the beginning of the case, we did assert that the ordinance violated the right to freedom of assembly. But the trial judge ruled for the city on that claim, determining that the members of Food Not Bombs and their homeless friends are free to assemble in the park so long as they do not serve food.

There also are options outside the courtroom. Perhaps the most important is making sure the food-sharings continue, as they have every Wednesday evening for more than five years.

Moving to outside the restricted zone (a 2-mile radius of City Hall) is being discussed. While there are good reasons for staying at Lake Eola Park, the members of Orlando Food Not Bombs are concerned about the impact of increased police scrutiny on the homeless and hungry folks they are helping. Many of the people who come to eat a healthy vegan meal have outstanding warrants or other issues with law enforcement. In past, attendance has been low when police are present at the food-sharing.

Lake Eola Park – often described as the “crown jewel” of Orlando’s 99 parks – was chosen for its symbolic value in conveying a message to the upper-middle class folks who live and work in what is often described as a gentrified area of downtown. In many ways, that message has been delivered.

Continuing the public discussion of homelessness and poverty may be the most important item on our “to do” list. Food Not Bombs will be meeting with other groups that have been using the park for sharing food, looking at the big picture and planning ways to build stronger community and political will to reduce homelessness and poverty.

And there’s an even bigger picture to keep in mind. The United States does not guarantee its citizens the right to food. Twenty-two other countries have enshrined the right to food in their constitutions, either for all citizens or specifically for children. Our friends at the National Law Center for Homelessness and Poverty have been working hard to promote the right to housing set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family including … housing.”

So there’s a lot of work still to do. The food-sharings will continue and we will be working toward some larger goals, too.

The silver lining here may be that the continued sense of injustice in the wake of the 11th Circuit’s decision just may help us accomplish our larger goals.

Resources:
National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) and National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty’s (NLCHP) Food Sharing Report

NLCHP’s information page on housing and other human rights

Opinion piece about the court decision

Jackie Dowd is an NCH AmeriCorps*VISTA Member and Volunteer Lawyer who coordinates the Faces of Homelessness Speakers’ Bureau in conjunction with the Homeless Services Network of Central Florida in Orlando. Check out Jackie’s blog on homeless and other social justice issues at http://www.jackiedowd.blogspot.com/

We are Still the Same

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness, Civil Rights, Criminalization

Here at the National Coalition for the Homeless, co-workers and I were discussing the laws against panhandling that have recently been passed in St. Petersburg, Florida and other cities across the country.  These laws against panhandling impose criminal penalties upon anyone who asks a fellow citizen for money.  This article further explains this attack on charity that is indirectly being launched:

http://www.tampabay.com/news/localgovernment/panhandlers-say-st-petersburg-street-solicitation-ban-will-make-things/1099981.

These panhandling laws are quite similar to the “no beggars allowed” notices that were posted around England in Oliver Twist’s world.  Charles Dickens, author of Oliver Twist, documented such a loathsome attitude towards the poor and homeless over 100 years ago.  There are claims that society’s ethical standards have evolved since then.  Have they?  An increase in homelessness has, now, in 21st century America, provoked the same response from government that poverty had provoked in 18th century England.  It’s rather disappointing that cities throughout the nation are required to represent the interests of minority groups but still decide to treat those who want to escape poverty the same way.

How unfair is this?  People can’t find a job after they look for one, and, now, they can’t even ask for money if they need it to survive.

This is as cruel as English warning-out laws that were imposed upon citizens in previous centuries, condemning anyone who could not provide for themselves to poverty.  Researchers explain this relationship between the cruelties of the past and present: http://0-find.galegroup.com.allecat3.allegheny.edu/ips/retrieve.do?contentSet=IAC-Documents&resultListType=RESULT_LIST&qrySerId=Locale%28en%2C%2C%29%3AFQE%3D%28ke%2CNone%2C32%29hate+crimes+against+the+homeless%24&sgHitCountType=None&inPS=true&sort=DateDescend&searchType=BasicSearchForm&tabID=T002&prodId=IPS&searchId=R1&currentPosition=1&userGroupName=alleg_main&docId=A138811123&docType=IAC&contentSet=IAC-Documents.

We should all think about the progress that has not happened.

By Anna Mackiewicz

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