Sunday, June 15, 2014

162.4 - Outrage of the Week: making it a crime to feed the homeless

Outrage of the Week: making it a crime to feed the homeless

Now for one of our regular features, the Outrage of the Week. This week it's going to be short but, naturally, not sweet. It's actually not a new event, rather it's an on-going festering wound on our national conscience, but one which I was reminded of this week.

It started with my stumbling across an article from last fall - November, to be more exact - stating that the city of Los Angeles was considering passing an ordinance making it illegal to feed homeless people in a public place.

The Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition had been feeding the hungry homeless for 27 years, but as homelessness got worse in Los Angeles County even as it declined most other places, the city wanted them to just go away and not disturb the local homeowners who didn't want to see all these icky homless people around.

I was unable to find out if the bill passed or not, but I would not be surprised if it did: In recent years, dozens of cities have passed such laws.

Philadelphia. Denver. Ashland, OR. Atlanta. Phoenix. San Diego. Miami. Oklahoma City. Orlando. Dallas. Dozens more, more than 50 in all.

The bans have been challenged, sometimes successfully. But it's like trying to kill the Hydra.

A crime in 50 cities
The excuses sometimes border on the absurd.

Birmingham, AL said it was to protect the homeless from tainted or otherwise unsafe food.

Philadelphia claimed banning feeding the homeless in public was actually about extending services to the homeless.

New York City actually went further than most, outlawing food donations to homeless shelters because - get this - the city can’t assess their salt, fat and fiber content and, apparently, getting no food was healthier than getting food with not enough fiber.

That absurdity only serves to point up the real reason for the bans: Despite all the talk about wanting to help the homeless, it remains just that - talk. And while it's true that the number of homeless has declined in recent years, dropping 16% between 2010 and 2013. But that still means that on any given night, around 600,000 people have no place to be. And the idea that it could be - and in many places is - a crime to feed them because we just don't want to have to see them, that is an outrage.

Sources cited in links:

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