On Criminalizing Homelessness and Feeding the Hungry, the State Is Indeed the Bad Guy
Claire S. Bernish, Guest
“There is no bad guy in this,” Sgt. Joseph Corrigan propitiated of an unforgiving crackdown targeting do-gooders with the nerve to voluntarily feed people in need — part of wider law enforcement action to quash the act of feeding houseless people throughout Atlanta — to the Associated Press.
There is no bad guy in this.
Activists and advocates for homeless people everywhere in the United States opine ever-tightening legal strictures regarding ‘sharing food’ in public — how feeding houseless people is classified under the law.
According to Georgia State University Police Sgt. Corrigan, a chaplain and head of the department’s homeless outreach, and a plethora of detractors, giving people food serves an acute need, but does little if anything to solve the twin crises of hunger and shelterlessness in the long term — even exacerbating such issues as left-behind refuse, communicable disease, lack of sanitation and restrooms, and more, if allowed to continue.
Indeed, as the AP reports, “About 40 cities nationwide had active laws to restrict food sharing as of November 2014, and a few dozen more had attempted such restrictions, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. Interim Director Megan Hustings said she doesn’t have updated numbers but that she’s heard about more cities considering such regulations.”
However, The Nation painted a more appropriately dismal if albeit embarrassing picture on the status of feeding houseless people — nearly three years ago, in February 2015 — reporting,
“According to a survey of more than 180 cities by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, anti-homeless laws pervade urban spaces nationwide. Roughly a third of cities barred public ‘camping,’ for example, up 60 percent since 2011. Restrictions range from prohibiting sitting on sidewalks to imposing steep fees or regulations that effectively criminalize actions of charity groups, often using antiseptic ‘quality of life’ terms (a tent pitched under a bridge becomes an unauthorized ‘camp’). Palo Alto has banned sleeping in parked cars. Mobile has imposed zero-tolerance on ‘aggressive panhandling,’ which could involve just ‘request[ing] a donation from a person standing in line…no matter how mildly the request was made.’ Last year, ThinkProgress reported, Fort Lauderdale authorized police to bust people who ‘store possessions’ on public property — suggesting that homeless people don’t deserve to have what little they carry with them, let alone ‘quality of life.’”
Notably, it isn’t as if these cities have implemented far-reaching and successful programs to replace the lost assistance of do-gooders.
In essence, critics of public charitable food-giving adhere to two problematic mainstays of thought: that people must ‘pull themselves up by the bootstraps’; but, failing that, ‘teaching them to fish’ — pointing them in the direction of assistance and having them enroll, for example, in return for food — rather than simply ‘giving them fish,’ is the only valid means of assisting the neediest of individuals.
Our way or no way, they seem to suggest. There is no bad guy in this.
“We don’t want anybody to stop feeding people. We just want it done in a way that’s connected to social services providers,” George Chidi, social impact director for nonprofit community development organization, Central Atlanta Progress, averred to the Associated Press, “and not on the street corner because we can’t make sure those connections are being made in these street corner feedings.”
Thus, Atlanta joins a shamefully lengthening list of cities choosing to declare a de facto war not only against the condition of being homeless, but against anyone willing to offer the stopgap assistance of an immediate meal.
Case in point, volunteer Adele MacLean with Food Not Bombs — who takes issue with the whole of Chidi’s position — landed a citation and court summons from another University of Georgia law enforcement officer on November 19, after the awareness and advocacy group refused to cease feeding houseless people in a downtown park when threats to obtain a permit were ignored. Although the offense was ultimately tossed by a judge, she feels the incident and the fallacious premise of her supposed transgression symptomatic of the crackdown on homelessness, telling the AP,
“Food is a human right, and you don’t force people to do what you want them to do by withholding food.”
Atlanta and other cities added to obstacles between houseless people and those who would provide them nourishment, predicating any immediate assistance on their entrée into the impoverishment assistance complex — while simultaneously frustrating activists and advocates with a deluge of impossible red tape making the act of sharing food a laborious chore for those attempting to work within its confines.
Indeed, shady tactics apparently land within the purview of enforcing the law.
According to the AP, attorneys for MacLean say police have gone so far as to disseminate a “misleading pamphlet” emblazoned with the city seal and a statement indicating a permit is required to feed homeless people in public — but it isn’t true. A previously unenforced county law exists, notes Reason — which only saw enforcement beginning around Thanksgiving — but none does explicitly for the City of Atlanta.
Southern Center for Human Rights attorney Gerry Weber, representing MacLean, explained restaurants, food trucks, and festival vendors may indeed require permits from the city — people voluntarily sharing food in public without charge, not so much.
Food Not Bombs was forced to challenge a similarly callous ordinance in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, arguing before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in August such crackdowns on feeding houseless people infringe on the group’s constitutional right to free speech, since members share food “as an expression of their political message that hunger and poverty can be ended if society’s resources are redirected from the military and war.”
A decision in the matter has yet to be rendered.
In the interim, charity workers advocating for homeless people in cities across this putatively Great (or, perhaps, Getting There) nation will have to contend with an ambivalent public, ludicrous restrictions, and an eagerly authoritarian body of law enforcement in order to give hungry people food in a public setting.
“I salute genuinely the good will and good nature of all these people,” Sgt. Corrigan insisted to the Associated Press.
“There is no bad guy in this.”
About the Author
Claire Bernish began writing as an independent, investigative journalist in 2015, with works published and republished around the world. Not one to hold back, Claire’s particular areas of interest include U.S. foreign policy, analysis of international affairs, and everything pertaining to transparency and thwarting censorship. To keep up with the latest uncensored news, follow her on Facebook or Twitter: @Subversive_Pen.
This article (On Criminalizing Homelessness and Feeding the Hungry, the State Is Indeed the Bad Guy) was originally created for The Mind Unleashed and is published here with permission. It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution and author bio.