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Atlanta Targets Good Samaritans Sharing Food with Homeless

Feed yourself in a public park. Feed the pigeons and the squirrels there, too. Whatever you do, though, don't share your food with a hungry person.

Feeding homelessWieslaw Jarek / DreamstimePolice in Atlanta are the latest blunt instrument around the country used to crack down on people sharing food with those in need.

Though the Fulton County permit requirement Atlanta police claim to be enforcing has been on the books for many years, it appears Atlanta's mayor only decided recently to enforce it, just in time for Thanksgiving. Violators face potential fines.

This crackdown is part of a larger, awful, and national trend.

"Beginning in the mid-2000s... many cities around the country began to crack down on good Samaritans... who provide food to the homeless and less fortunate," I write in my recent book, Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable.

An Atlanta Indymedia video, posted on YouTube last month, shows several police officers in and around Hurt Park, which lies at the center of Georgia State University's campus, making vague threats against people who are feeding others or arriving with the intent do so.

Early in the video, for example, we see a flabbergasted woman—who says she's a licensed baker and had just driven for an hour to deliver baked goods to the homeless—turned away by the police. The video later shows at least one person holding a ticket she said officers issued her for allegedly violating county health department foodservice regulations. On the video, she describes the ticket as the same one a restaurant might receive for selling food without a permit.

Many of the Atlanta good Samaritans belong to a nonprofit group called Food Not Bombs. The group has been sharing food with those in need in Hurt Park for many years. I first wrote about Food Not Bombs in a 2011 Hit & Run blog post that detailed how members of the group had been arrested in Orlando for violating that city's similarly unconstitutional ban on sharing food with that city's homeless.

Volunteers who appear in the video say they'll continue to share food with those in need. Adele Mclean, one of the volunteers who was ticketed, has a court date next week. She says she'll back in the park, law or no law.

In Houston, another city with an awful feeding ban that I discuss in my book, one man is also fighting back. Earlier this year, Phillip Paul Bryant sued Houston, arguing that the city's ban infringes on his constitutional rights. That follows separate lawsuits against Las Vegas and Philadelphia (both of which I first discussed here) by local ACLU chapters.

"What kind of a city—what kind of a human being—would tell others that they couldn't share food with those in need?" I ask in Biting the Hands that Feed Us.

Then-New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg famously banned people from donating food to city shelters in 2012 "because the city can't assess their salt, fat and fiber content."

In Atlanta, one face of the ban is Georgia State University Police Chief Joseph Spillane.

"Efforts to feed the hungry can be a drain on resources when trash is left and security is required," reports Georgia State University's student paper, the Signal, "according to Chief Spillane."

Judging by the number of police officers milling about the park and ticketing people in the Indymedia recording, the police themselves are solely responsible for that drain on resources. No one's security appears to be threatened, either, save by police.

And what of the alleged trash Spillane cites? Volunteers on the Indymedia video balk at that claim, saying they bring their own trash bags and remove and dispose of any trash generated during the feeding program.

Chief Spillane, who says he's grateful for all the support he received after a recent drunk-driving arrest and related suspension, goes on to argue that volunteers who are providing support to the homeless are doing little more than "throwing some food" at those in need.

Some critics also contend that sharing food with the homeless doesn't solve the problem of homelessness. And they're right! You know what also doesn't solve the problem? Everything from not sharing food with the homeless to rooting for a football team that blows a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl to—at least to date—every other human action intended to solve the problem of homelessness.

If Atlanta officials can solve the problem, then by all means they should share their plan. Otherwise, they should get out of the way of those who want to help.

Photo Credit: Wieslaw Jarek / Dreamstime

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    ...we see a flabbergasted woman—who says she's a licensed baker and had just driven for an hour to deliver baked goods to the homeless—turned away by the police.

    I'm surprised you didn't see some serious asset forfeiture on that video.

  • Longtobefree||

    None of the baked goods were donuts.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    HATE SPEECH

  • Longtobefree||

    Wrong! Nobody hates donuts.

  • Elias Fakaname||

    Homer Simpson agrees.

  • Longtobefree||

    Atlanta has been run by democrats since 1879.
    Tell me again which party cares for the poor and downtrodden?

  • Incomprehensible Bitching||

    Atlanta is run by racists; this is known.

  • Longtobefree||

    Maybe so, but those racists have been black since 1974.

  • Juice||

  • Elias Fakaname||

    Racists? Well yeah, he did say they were democrats. Nothing is more racist than some filthy democrat.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Caring for the downtrodden is OK, provided it's not done voluntarily. The House Un-Altruistic Activities Committee made this clear long ago.

  • Elias Fakaname||

    What does a Nazi and commit hunting group have to do with the homeless population?

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    "Then-New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg famously banned people from donating food to city shelters in 2012 "because the city can't assess their salt, fat and fiber content.""

    I knew Bloomberg was a delusional self-absorbed, arrogant twit. This underlines how much I underestimated his idiocy. How does somebody this silly get elected Mayor of a major city?

    Oh, right, mainstream media.

    *spit*

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    One of the rationales for limiting criminal prosecution to state prosecutors is to eliminate vendettas. The real reason is to eliminate the competition; victim prosecution would be far more efficient and fair without all the vote-seeking and crony selection.

    Same with feeding the homeless, harassing charity drop-off bins, etc; their stated rationales are bunk, and the real reason is the competition makes them look bad.

    Government welfare is always one of the things that comes up during discussions of less government. How can I be so heartless as to not want to help the poor, the disabled, the homeless. When I mention mutual aid societies, how the AMA used government goons to destroy their medical care arrangements, how Nanny Bloomberg shut down charity feeders -- they think it's all some Republican fake history. Never mind that Republican politicians do this as much as Democrat. I suppose pretty soon it will all be considered fascist fake history.

  • Incomprehensible Bitching||

    When we say "We need a safety net to take care of the less fortunate", we don't mean "I want a safety net subsidized by someone else, in case something happens to my ass."

    We mean "let's go take care of poor people."

    I promise.

  • PlaystoomuchHALO||

    Actually, what they mean is "we need to raise taxes to coddle the junkie population with security-free shelters, free needles, and high-grade heroin"

    After all, more junkies means more federal tax dollars you can reap.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Enough free smack and the problem takes care of itself.

  • Elias Fakaname||

    Give them the shit Phillip Seymour Hoffman was shooting. That will thin out the junkies in sort order.

  • <Unpastable>||

    victim prosecution would be far more efficient and fair

    WTF? It would be open season on "victims" who can't afford to pay for a prosecution.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Not with loser pays. There'd be lawyers jumping out of the woodwork because they know they're going to get paid, since "loser pays" means all costs related to the crime and recovery.

    And if the perp hasn't got any money, I'm sure there will be charities prosecuting the perps anyway, just to get them off the street.

    Do you really think poor people get a break today? Do you know how many police departments today won't even send someone out for burglaries unless the amount is a fortune? They prioritize too, and if there's not enough money or influence or votes at stake, you'll be lucky to find an online form to waste time filling out.

  • Elias Fakaname||

    The police are now functionally useless to me. They barely respond to property crime, with zero follow up, and if I have physical disputes with a third party, they just interfere with me dispensing justice as I see fit. The only other thing they do is hassle the wrong people on public roads.

  • jdgalt1||

    No, let's be honest here. There are two "homeless problems" -- the one this article recognizes, in which homeless people suffer, and the one in which homeless people (and the probably-larger number of phony homeless people) are themselves the problem, making the neighborhoods where they congregate ugly, stinking, and scary to ordinary folks.

    The author is trying to tell the ordinary people of our major cities that they have no business seeing the second problem as a problem, or at least trying to do anything about it, and that is wrong and stupid. Laws like this one are the least that can be expected as a result.

    Instead, I would prefer to offer libertarian solutions to both problems. The best answer to the second is to privatize the parks where this occurs, thus allowing the owners to exclude the problem individuals directly. The best answer to the first problem is to push for repeal of policies like the minimum wage, which were originally sold to the public (back in the 19-teens) as ways to push handicapped people out of the job market, thus forcing them to be institutionalized (and making them homeless when the institutions went away).

  • JFree||

    the one in which homeless people (and the probably-larger number of phony homeless people) are themselves the problem, making the neighborhoods where they congregate ugly, stinking, and scary to ordinary folks.

    Presumably that's the scenario in which 'libertarian' property owners call the cops and their local zoning boards and their pols to 'do something' to preserve their 'property rights' by coercing someone else. And then justifies the following as 'libertarian' doozies.

    The best answer to the second is to privatize the parks where this occurs, thus allowing the owners to exclude the problem individuals directly.

    Indeed. Privatize all land so that those problem individuals can no longer exist on Earth. After all no one has a natural right to exist and even if they do it damn well doesn't trump private land monopoly rights granted by a government land title. And what does 'exclude them directly' mean? Does it mean the land owner shoots them themselves? Or does it mean they create something called 'state' so that 'state' can shoot them and 'owner' gets to tuttut about 'state abuses' while keeping their own hands clean.

  • Elias Fakaname||

    Why don't we have a few hundred of them come and squat in YOUR neighborhood unrestrained for a month. Then report back to us and let us know how it went.

  • MasterThief||

    I really don't know what the government's rationale is besides they hate the competition. Maybe they'd have a case that providing homeless people with resources in the wrong locations encourages squatting and loitering in those places? Maybe there is some concern that bad actors might actually be plotting to poison the homeless?
    Let people engage in private charity. Deal with these things on an individual basis rather than the institutional approach that has done nothing to ease the problem.

  • Eidde||

    "Maybe they'd have a case that providing homeless people with resources in the wrong locations encourages squatting and loitering in those places?"

    I would guess that that's the reason. From the standpoint of residents and businesses in these areas, charity attracts homeless people, some of whom trespass, defecate, harass people, etc.

    But for those who advocate for government welfare over private charity, I'd say that government welfare also encourages bad behavior.

  • Eidde||

    But I wouldn't punish these unfortunates by cutting off all aid, private and public - I'm just mentioning some of the factors which make people want to cut off private aid in certain areas.

  • Eidde||

    Hmm...the article says this happens in "Hurt Park, which lies at the center of Georgia State University's campus." Wikipedia confirms this is a public park, which I presume means the government owns it.

    As a responsible property owner, the government has to make sure its property is used for the purposes for which it was intended. If the problems listed above result from serving the homeless there, there'd be a case for the police directing the homeless to the property owned by good Samaritan types, churches for instance, or the Food Not Bombs people if they have a facility.

    Of course, it seems the ordinances they're enforcing could be applied anywhere, private property as well as public.

  • MasterThief||

    At that point, I suppose it is necessary that the government sanction areas where the homeless can congregate since being homeless in our society is essentially illegal. What is that balance point where homeless people can receive charity without violating any laws or property owner's rights?

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    They can certainly get it on public property.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Gather*

  • <Unpastable>||

    As long as they're not loitering or conducting themselves disorderlily.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    You need to visit Seattle. All the functioning meth labs are on city halls grounds in tents, because that's the only place the Seattle pd isn't allowed to look. When they suspected one, they actually had to wait for a warrant. To search a tent. Pitched on city property. Not kidding.

  • PlaystoomuchHALO||

    They should have just torched it.

    It was a mistake when the Clown Mayor Nickels first started encouraging tent cities the current disaster was the inevitable end result.

  • Elias Fakaname||

    That must be a real boon for the gangs

  • Robert||

    It's much simpler than that: People don't want bums coming to their neighborhood. I'm sure local constituents are leaning quietly on elected officials to that effect. The mayor knows that's true of all neighborhoods, so city-wide crackdown. If the gov't didn't do that, there could be worse, as when Miami B. residents torched a church that was feeding bums.

    Notice that people don't object to Meals on Wheels, because that doesn't cause the clients to congregate. That doesn't help the homeless, but does help the foodless or handicapped. Also they don't object to their institutionaliz'n, as long as the clients are kept out of sight all day & night.

  • <Unpastable>||

    What you say is essentially correct, but you seem unsympathetic to the consituent's position of wanting to be able to use a park as a park, rather than a homeless meet-and-greet.

    Plus the homeless are not just going to arrive when the feeding starts and promptly leave when they're finished eating. They're going to spend more and more time there panhandling between meals and eventually start living there. Does not make for a usable park.

  • Elias Fakaname||

    Yep. They come in in droves and take over.

  • JFree||

    Yes they come in droves - because there are a lot more homeless than anyone wants to admit - and stay because - they have nowhere else to go

    It would certainly be more convenient if they just offed themselves and spared us the inconvenience of seeing the cost of real estate bubbles and homeowner subsidies.

  • Elias Fakaname||

    Or if they just didn't all go to the same places and overwhelm them. I'm not big on vagrancy laws, but I also have a right not be endlessly hassled by hordes of homeless people because they feel entitled.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Their rationale is probably quite simple. There are existing rules for food handling, food delivery and distribution, cooked food versus unprepared food etc etc there is a patchwork and tapestry of rules and regulations and laws so vast in this country that almost anything you do could probably infringe on any one of those.

    The states doesn't really even have any particular Sinister motives here, I simply believe that if there are rules to be enforced that those rules will be in the enforced and the bureaucracy that enforces it doesn't move with any kind of morality, it's simply acts because that's what it does.

    The only morality that might come into it is the fear that if they don't act, they'll lose their legitimacy

  • ||

    This is what happens when the secular state (now in overdrive) removed the compassion, humanism and charity of the (Catholic) Church out of the equation.

    You get acts like this that run contrary to humanism and everything we told and taught about what was necessary to maintain a ciivl society and healthy communities.

    We fine people for being kind because they don't have permits. Think of it. This is how cynicism seeps into the mindset of people.

    'Why should I? Let the government deal with them' is a most unfortunate way to think with horrible and horrific implications.

    The government is not interested in humanism. It's interested in votes and how it calculates into power.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Permission culture.

  • Zero||

    "the compassion, humanism and charity of the (Catholic) Church"

    That's hilarious on so many levels.

  • Texasmotiv||

    I know this is probably just a snarked up anti religion knee-jerk but are you saying that the Catholic Church is NOT an organization with a long history of charitable action throughout the last few centuries?

    I'm no fan of the Catholic Church myself but am I mistaken in that charity is one of their main planks?

  • Elias Fakaname||

    A lot of bitter atheists refuse to recognize any good works of religious organizations, no matter what,

  • Sevo||

    "A lot of bitter atheists refuse to recognize any good works of religious organizations, no matter what,"

    A lot of bleevers beat on straw men in the hopes that those who are logical will look bad.

  • Elias Fakaname||

    'Bleevers'? Did you man to say 'beliebers'?

  • JuanQPublic||

    This is what happens when the secular state (now in overdrive) removed the compassion, humanism and charity of the (Catholic) Church out of the equation.

    You mean the Constitutional separation of church and state?

  • Finrod||

    How cute, the 'separation of church and state' myth again.

  • Sevo||

    "Some critics also contend that sharing food with the homeless doesn't solve the problem of homelessness. And they're right! You know what also doesn't solve the problem? Everything from not sharing food with the homeless to rooting for a football team that blows a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl to—at least to date—every other human action intended to solve the problem of homelessness."

    This over-simplifies the issue to the point of being misleading.
    "The homeless" are not a consistent population. They range from those truly incapable of providing for their own care to those who, simply free-ride on the largess of 21-century America. SF, for example, spends nearly $250M/yr on "The homeless" and makes zero effort at triage: "S.F. spends record $241 million on homeless, can't track results" http://www.sfchronicle.com/bay.....808319.php
    Secondly, "assistance" can cross the line to "enablement" and does: We have one group who distributes box lunches to the tents, so "The homeless" don't have to travel to receive their free food.
    So before I give those sharing food a standing O, I want to make sure they are not encouraging the act they claim to want to solve.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    This is true too. San Francisco homeless rallied and protested for a while many years ago, over the insufficiency and inhumaneness of homeless shelters. They were humans too! They wanted real houses! They went on strike by refusing to lodge in the homeless shelters, and of course the proggies fell for that one, pressured the politicians into upgrading the shelters for all I remember now.

    I have dealt with homeless before, in a prior residence which had a church nearby feeding the homeless. The sense of entitlement was palpable. Nothing was good enough for them, and they were encouraged by the priest (Episcopalian, I think). It was pretty obvious that the vast majority were just lazy and didn't want a structured life when they could have a free life at somebody else's expense. I have no problem with that. If they can find suckers who will finance their life of liberty, fine by me. But don't steal my money to soothe your guilty conscience.

  • <Unpastable>||

    It was pretty obvious that the vast majority were just lazy and didn't want a structured life when they could have a free life at somebody else's expense. I have no problem with that. If they can find suckers who will finance their life of liberty, fine by me. But don't steal my money to soothe your guilty conscience.

    Massive externalities there though. Enabling people to wander around idly all day long causes trouble.

  • Elias Fakaname||

    Scarecrow, a lot of what you say is echoed towards the end of this clip........

    https://tinyurl.com/yck76tvu

  • JuanQPublic||

    "The homeless" are not a consistent population. They range from those truly incapable of providing for their own care to those who, simply free-ride on the largess of 21-century America.

    But only the willfully ignorant believe that homeless people are uniform in the first place.

    Anyone who is grounded in reality knows that the homeless population contains people of the same roles as the rest of society: people who will take advantage of others, people who would do almost anything for another person, etc. All kinds. A huge proportion are veterans, and/or mentally disabled.

    So, homeless people are more like everyone else than not. Imagine that.

    So the problem lies in seeing them all the same, whether it's overly negative or overly positive.

  • AlmightyJB||

    I don't think this policy goes far enough. If you really want to address homelessness, you should not allow homeless people to feed themselves either. If a cop sees a homeless person trying to eat something, they should shoot them. Problem solved.

  • Longtobefree||

    A policy that will be helped by the fact many homeless have dogs.

  • Elias Fakaname||

    Well, there is that guy in AZ that's looking for a new job where he can get paid to shoot innocent people pleading for their life.

  • Arcxjo||

    Actually, not feeding homeless people DOES solve the problem, if we all don't do it long enough.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Maybe it would be better if the city justified their actions vis-a-vis feeding raccoons. With every ticket issued, the cop could yell, "you wanna end up like Seattle? "

  • Eidde||

    Where does the "not bombs" come into this group's activities? They're against bombing the homeless? Good for them!

  • Longtobefree||

    Salvation Army for real?

  • <Unpastable>||

    "What kind of a city—what kind of a human being—would tell others that they couldn't share food with those in need?" I ask in Biting the Hands that Feed Us.

    None of these laws stop you from sharing food with those in need. There are plenty of food pantries and soup kitchens operating in both Houston and Atlanta.

    The laws merely prevent disruptions of the intended use of public property. A park is not supposed to be an outdoor soup kitchen.

  • JFree||

    Perhaps its those 'intended uses' that are constipated and coercive - and quite deliberately intended to subsidize property values at the expense of those without property.

    Maybe what those (and other cities) need is a Hazen Pingree 'potato patch plan'

  • sarcasmic||

    Homeless people, like stray dogs and cats, keep coming back to you if you feed them.

    Stop feeding them and they go away.

  • <Unpastable>||

  • sarcasmic||

    That's actually quite accurate. At least based upon my six month stint as a homeless person in Boulder, CO.

  • macsnafu||

    Punishing people for trying to help the homeless. Tell me again what good government does?

  • A Thinking Mind||

    Fuck you for that jab at the Falcons. I just want to live in a world where that doesn't come up at least once a week.

  • Half-Virtue, Half-Vice||

    Fuck the police.

  • Zero||

    "'What kind of a city—what kind of a human being—would tell others that they couldn't share food with those in need?'"

    That reminds of an observation Albert Jay Nock made in his essay, "Anarchist's Progress":

    "I ran across the case of a boy who had been sentenced to prison, a poor, scared little brat, who had intended something no worse than mischief, and it turned out to be a crime. The judge said he disliked to sentence the lad; it seemed the wrong thing to do; but the law left him no option. I was struck by this. The judge, then, was doing something as an official that he would not dream of doing as a man; and he could do it without any sense of responsibility, or discomfort, simply because he was acting as an official and not as a man. On this principle of action, it seemed to me that one could commit almost any kind of crime without getting into trouble with one's conscience.

    Clearly, a great crime had been committed against this boy; yet nobody who had had a hand in it — the judge, the jury, the prosecutor, the complaining witness, the policemen and jailers — felt any responsibility about it, because they were not acting as men, but as officials. Clearly, too, the public did not regard them as criminals, but rather as upright and conscientious men."

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    "Efforts to feed the hungry can be a drain on resources when trash is left and security is required"

    You know what else is a drain on resources...?

  • Cunty Over Party||

    Hitler

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    Couldn't be more wrong. The correct answer is JEWS, kids.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Now there's an answer that "left" Soviet and "right" National Socialists have agreed on since 1920. Freethinker non-socialists have only our spoiler votes with which to contradict the entrenched kleptocracy. So be it.

  • Elias Fakaname||

    There is no right wing socialism. Socialism is the province of the left.

  • PlaystoomuchHALO||

    If you feed the bums, junkies, and the other politically-named "homeless" all you do is end up attracting more of them, which is not a good thing. Seattle set things up so that these worthless, human-like, talking parasites felt comfortable in moving to the region in droves.

    The crime problem hasn't gotten to the point where they are murdering actual people instead of just each other, and Seattle city government just keeps talking about how we need to raise taxes to care for them and attract even more junkies.

    We should be torching their encampments after running them out with fire hoses, mace, and riot sticks.

  • Hank Phillips||

    To Hell with the alternative of not branding them as criminals with economically debilitating holier-than-thou sumptuary laws.

  • Palatki||

    Wow. Last of the great humanitarians.

  • Butler T. Reynolds||

    "a flabbergasted woman—who says she's a licensed baker and had just driven for an hour to deliver baked goods to the homeless"

    Maybe if she didn't wasn't an hour away from the homeless then she wouldn't have so much sympathy for them and she wouldn't be so flabbergasted.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Are these the same homeless people whose homes were seized by God's Own Prohibitionists in a flurry of asset-forfeiture nationalization to protect them from the wrong kinds of leaves and burning bushes?

  • JuanQPublic||

    Being poor/homeless is essentially a crime in America today. Of course, there's no law that explicitly says so, because that would look too heinous, but the sum of all these laws does just that.

  • WSS||

    The licensed baker drove an hour to feed homeless people in somebody else's neighborhood. I'm willing to bet her own community has no homeless shelter, and if anyone attempted to build one there'd be mobs in the street with shotguns, torches, etc. Atlanta's homeless come from all over the region, but the cul-de-sac suburbs won't tolerate this problem in their own back yard and would rather export this problem to the big liberal city nearby, then watch it on the news and laugh about big city liberal disfunction.
    The good samaritans would be more honest and actually good if they worked to encourage their own communities to take responsibility for their part of the problem.

  • JuanQPublic||

    Chief Spillane, who says he's grateful for all the support he received after a recent drunk-driving arrest and related suspension, goes on to argue that volunteers who are providing support to the homeless are doing little more than "throwing some food" at those in need.

    This paragraph is a good summation of law enforcement in America today.

  • Curt||

    "rooting for a football team that blows a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl"

    Hey! C'mon now... that's hitting below the belt.

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