Homeless population dismayed as food sharing restrictions continue

07/01/10 Joshua Lee Holton
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The slumping economy has cost many people their jobs, and some their homes. As the rising homeless population remains a major concern, a report released today says many cities across the U.S. are blocking those who want to help feed those in need.

The report authored by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty shows that nearly two dozen communities nationwide have created ordinances and policies that put restrictions on food sharing. They cited seven cities in Florida – including Sarasota, West Palm Beach, Orlando and Miami. Neil Donovan, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, says the report shines light onto how the issue of feeding the homeless is often ignored.

"It shows not only some of the progressive ways the communities are addressing this need, but they're also showing communities who are resisting attempts to feed the homeless. So what we're trying to do is say that, criminalizing feeding homeless people is not the approach. There are effective ways to go about doing this."

Donovan and the National Coalition for the Homeless make recommendations for communities to consider when helping the homeless population.

"Well the recommendations are to get all of the stakeholders together and to talk about what our effective strategies are. Including location, time, whether or not our restrictions are necessary; including the police as partners rather than advisories; including food safety as a safety mechanism both for the people who are serving the food as well as those who are eating it."

Mark Silverstein of Food Not Bombs Ft. Lauderdale says local authorities have tried to arrest members of his food sharing program.

"So in 2007 the city of Ft. Lauderdale harassed us and threatened us with arrest if we continued to share in Stranahan Park. We organized a protest, we had a media campaign and they left us alone. But now recently the city has been threatening us again and there’s a homeless task force created that consists mostly of developers, police officers and city officials. Some charity groups are trying to move the feeding location from Stranahan park to some out of the way industrial area, which the homeless people there do not want."

Even though a federal judge upheld the right of Food Not Bombs to distribute food in a meaningful place as protected speech, several cities still have laws that restrict the distribution of food. The report released today offers food sharing alternatives, and other ways communities can help, such as offering federal nutrition programs.

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Feeding Homeless People

Excellent story with good detail about where this draconian and heartless trend of criminalizing feeding down and out people has popped up! Keep up your coverage of the "Great Recession" phenomenon of hundreds of thousands of Floridians out living outdoors (often not having a tent), on the street or at the mercy of the Salvation Army. The latter has no outside oversight of how they treat people since the S.A. is a church and their shelter practices have been so far above scrutiny or inquiry, that I know of. Some very coldhearted stuff has happened there to "transients", just between you and me and the woodwork. Now that would be a place for a reporter to take a hidden camera and spend a few weeks as a transient. Thank you for the story. My only request is that you abstain from using the term "the homeless" and every time, please say "homeless people." (you did so some of the time) Just changing the way people in that situation are called humanizes them/us. Good job.