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Feeding the Homeless? There Could Be a Law Against That!

Merry Christmas.

Fred/flickrFred/flickrThe holiday season tends to be a time of charitable giving and volunteering—30 percent of donations to non-profits come in December while 16 percent of adults volunteer about two hours a month between Thanksgiving and Christmas (a five percent increase over how many adults volunteer the rest of the year).

But if you're trying to feed the homeless, you'll have to be careful about hurdles thrown up by local governments.

Regular readers of Reason may know about this awful trend well. We've covered various crack downs and indignities in places like Orlando, Dallas, San Antonio, Tampa, Philadelphia, and Atlanta, which Baylen Linnekin wrote earlier this month was the latest jurisdiction using police as a "blunt instrument" to crack down on feeding the homeless.

On Christmas Day, the Associated Press reported on the November citations in Atlanta highlighted by Linnekin, and noted that dozens of cities around the country have laws placing restrictions on sharing food (how feeding the homeless is classified).

Adele MacLean, one of the volunteers with Food Not Bombs who received a citation for serving food without a permit, had her case thrown out earlier this month. Her lawyer, Gerry Weber of the Southern Center for Human Rights, told the AP he believes police will continue to crack down on those trying to feed the homeless and called on the city to make a definitive statement on the right of residents to feed the homeless in public spaces.

Weber accused officers of distributing a "misleading pamphlet" bearing the city seal that claimed volunteers needed a permit to share food in public spaces—he says there is no such city law. (There is a county law that's been on the book for years but only began to be enforced in Atlanta just before Thanksgiving).

"I salute genuinely the good will and good nature of all these people," Sgt. Joseph Corrigan, the chaplain in charge of the Georgia State University police department's homeless outreach program, told the AP. "There is no bad guy in this."

With all due respect, it seems pretty clear that in this situation the "bad guys," such as it were, are the people keeping other people from feeding those in need.

Corrigan insisted homeless people needed to be connected to shelters and other organizations, and that feeding them in public places led to food safety and other public health issues like garbage and human waste left behind.

But if these were the city's concerns, it's possible to deal with them without a police crackdown. The resources expended on police actions could be used to alleviate some of the associated problems or enable volunteers to better handle them.

It's not just the city that's upset by attempts to feed the homeless that don't comport to their preferences.

George Chidi, the social impact director for Central Atlanta Progress, a community development non-profit, told the AP feeding the homeless in public spaces could disrupt other efforts to capture homeless people within pre-existing, and often government-backed, social services.

"We don't want anybody to stop feeding people," Chidi insisted to the AP. "We just want it done in a way that's connected to social services providers ... and not on the street corner because we can't make sure those connections are being made in these street corner feedings."

Like the city, Chidi's organization is free to deploy resources to assist volunteers in helping to make those connections if itbelievesthat's a problem.

MacLean dismisses Chidi and the city's concerns in their entirety.

"Food is a human right, and you don't force people to do what you want them to do by withholding food," MacLean told the AP.

The declaration that food is a human right is not particularly useful—as Sheldon Richman notes, "a government-declared 'right'(that does not reflect natural rights) is no right at all; it is rather a declared government power to allocate goods and services."

In that context, the government's approach to private individuals attempting to feed the homeless makes more sense, though it's still wrong. The government's power here ought to be questioned and challenged.

Food may not be a human right. But the freedom to feed others (if they want to be fed!) is.

Watch Reason TV on the crackdown in Philly

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  • Crusty Juggler||

    With all due respect, it seems pretty clear that in this situation the "bad guys," such as it were, are the people keeping other people from feeding those in need.
    Corrigan insisted homeless people needed to be connected to shelters and other organizations, and that feeding them in public places led to food safety and other public health issues like garbage and human waste left behind.

    The bad people are the homeless who refuse to be connected to a shelter. Duh.

    Also, the bad people are the ones who shit in the street.

    Also bad people: the bankers who threw them out of their homes.

    So yeah it always ends up being the fault of the Jews.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    *parses article for Sheldon Richman reference

    Yep, that checks out.

  • Longtobefree||

    But do you feed the homeless with all your wealth?

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    Free stuff is always a trap.

    I keep telling myself that, but I still end up following the butterfinger on a string as it leads me into a dark alleyway...

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Go on...

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    Not much to say. Sometimes a butterfinger is just a butterfinger.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Really? There's a Butterfingers at the end of that string? I always thought it was a wedding ring.

  • Rhywun||

    these street corner feedings

    They make it sound like leaving a saucer of milk out for feral cats.

  • Rhywun||

    Food is a human right

    Uh...

  • Rhywun||

    Never mind... I see Richman is on it.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    "We don't want anybody to stop feeding people," Chidi insisted to the AP. "We just want it done in a way that's connected to social services providers ... and not on the street corner because we can't make sure those connections are being made in these street corner feedings."

    We believe in freedom, as long as you make the choices we want you to.

  • KBeckman||

    I think it's more along the lines of...
    How am I supposed to get paid to feed the homeless when other people will do it for free?

  • Sevo||

    "How am I supposed to get paid to feed the homeless when other people will do it for free?"
    In SF, there is a ton of that; the homeless industry now eats $250m/year:
    "S.F. spends record $241 million on homeless, can't track results"
    http://www.sfchronicle.com/bay.....808319.php
    That was 2015 budget, before we got the new "Director of Bums" with a "white-board!!!!!!!" Hey, how can any bureaucrat fail if he has a white-board?

  • KBeckman||

    He better be using it to draw dicks.

  • Longtobefree||

    We cannot have religion replacing the state. It will lead to chaos, and to me being the homeless.

  • Rhywun||

    Playing devil's advocate for a moment... You get more of what you encourage. I don't know a lot of people who want a bunch of homeless hanging around their neighborhood. The city people are probably responding to that as much as anything.

  • Sevo||

    In SF, the ones most 'supportive' of the bums tend to live on the hills; the bums won't drag their crap uphill, and I think that piece of scum Agnos knows that.
    Or, they tend to live on the Presidio Wall, and fat chance a bum is going to pitch a tent in THAT 'hood! Pelosi would be on the phone in an instant, and the cops would be two instants behind.

  • Rhywun||

    Sure but poor people don't want bums on the street either, and they vote too.

  • JuanQPublic||

    Playing devil's advocate for a moment... You get more of what you encourage.

    By bringing food? That's along the lines of "encouraging addiction" by offering clean needles or methadone, or "encouraging crime" by opposing scorched-earth laws and policy and supporting reason-based policy.

    Treating homeless people like human beings doesn't encourage homelessness. As with any other population, rich or poor, there are those who take advantage, those who will do anything for others, and everything in-between.

  • ||

    In any case, Food Not Bombs does not particularly seek or target 'the homeless'. We give food to anyone who comes along and wants it, i.e. we share food (unlike the Welfare system, for which poverty is a kind of job requiring strict qualification and regulation by a complex bureaucracy). The people who do this are not particularly wealthy, or if they are they're concealing it mighty well. The people involved have a great variety of motivations, from charitable feelings to ardent anarcho-communism to 'Be the change you want to see.' We even get some libertarians.

    I believe most of the opposition comes from real estate interests who would like to clear poor people out of certain areas in order to facilitate gentrification, and see anything which makes the lives of the poor less miserable as an impediment to this ambitions.

  • Sevo||

    I've mentioned this before:
    "The Homeless" are not a homogeneous population. While what passes for my 'evidence' is anecdotal, there are far too many who simply are willing to 'campout' on sidewalks and parks as opposed to getting a damn job.
    Supporting such vermin, while not worthy of criminal action, should certainly be subject to peer condemnation.

  • Rhywun||

    I think that's more of a west coast thing. I remember seeing a shocking number of "street punks" when I lived in SF. Here on the east coast most of the homeless you see on the street have severe mental and/or alcohol problems. These people aren't getting jobs.

  • Longtobefree||

    No chance that the weather plays a role in the difference between 'camping out', and real, true bum-hood?

  • JuanQPublic||

    Supporting such vermin, while not worthy of criminal action, should certainly be subject to peer condemnation.

    You're right, the homeless aren't a homogenous population. But it's not a simple "these people want to work and these people don't."

    A huge percentage of homeless have mental health problems, and for many of them addiction is the main symptom of those mental health problems. Additionally, a huge percentage are veterans with mental health issues.

    Furthermore, many homeless people are in fact working. Many have been incarcerated, and a good percentage of those are non-violent offenses, such as drug charges.

    So for many of them, good luck with the "get a job" strategy.
  • JuanQPublic||

    "Supporting such vermin, while not worthy of criminal action, should certainly be subject to peer condemnation."

    ^^ Sorry, that's the quoted portion.

  • crufus||

    This is about using the law to make sure there are no unwashed homeless hanging around to disturb the tax paying property owners. Just like using vagrancy laws to send them somewhere else.

  • Deflator Mouse||

    Yep, and here at Reason we know property owners have no rights.

  • JFree||

    a government-declared 'right'(that does not reflect natural rights) is no right at all; it is rather a declared government power to allocate goods and services

    You mean - like the government-declared right that person X and only person X has monopoly title over a particular land claim - and that government will enforce that claim upon everyone else - at everyone else's direct expense as well?

    Cuz I'm 100% sure that's no 'natural right'.

  • mpercy||

    "a government-declared 'right'(that does not reflect natural rights) is no right at all; it is rather a declared government power to allocate goods and services"

    Like a "right to healthcare" or housing or food or Internet (more and more places are making Internet a human right). All these fall under "a declared government power to allocate goods and services", and worse "a declared government power to make you pay for others" rights to these things.

  • Sevo||

    "You mean - like the government-declared right that person X and only person X has monopoly title over a particular land claim"

    You've been peddling this line of bullshit for years, and all it gets you is laughs.

  • Sevo||

    BTW, JF, the government "grants" nothing of the sort. It simply protects my ownership from idiots like you who presume no one owns anything.
    Why, it's almost like you're a slaver!

  • JFree||

    I set out on this ground which I suppose to be self evident, that the earth belongs in usufruct to the living; that the dead have neither powers nor rights over it. The portion occupied by an individual ceases to be his when himself ceases to be, and reverts to the society. If the society has formed no rules for the appropriation of its lands in severalty, it will be taken by the first occupants. These will generally be the wife and children of the decedent. If they have formed rules of appropriation, those rules may give it to the wife and children, or to some one of them, or to the legatee of the deceased. So they may give it to his creditor. But the child, the legatee or creditor takes it, not by any natural right, but by a law of the society of which they are members, and to which they are subject. Thomas Jefferson

  • croaker||

    The recent event in Florida where the good samaritans decided to carry AR-15s and the cops wisely decided not to start shit may be the answer to all this.

  • KBeckman||

    Not sure about that. It didn't work out too well for blacks in California.

  • ||

    The most powerful weapon against the authorities in Fort Lauderdale a few years ago turned out to be Christianity. The city wanted to bust Food Not Bombs (as in Atlanta) but they could not contrive a law to bust them without also busting an Evangelical group who were also feeding people in approximately the same location. This was in an area where you do not mess with the Evangelicals if you want to be reelected.

  • Deflator Mouse||

    Food may not be a human right. But the freedom to feed others (if they want to be fed!) is.

    Not if you're using someone else's property to do it.

    If FNB fed the homeless on private property with the permission of the owner, they would not have been cited.

  • Anastasia Beaverhausen||

    "If FNB fed the homeless on private property with the permission of the owner, they would not have been cited."

    Sure they would... and the owner of the private property would be hit with any number of zoning violations, for operating a food bank in an area zoned for light industrial, or residential, or whatever the government had previously decreed as the official purpose of that building.

  • ||

    The food sharing was taking place in a public park to which, in theory, everyone had access. Since others could share food in the park (families, clubs, groups of friends) Food Not Bombs reasoned that they, too, could share food.

  • Deflator Mouse||

    Weber accused officers of distributing a "misleading pamphlet" bearing the city seal that claimed volunteers needed a permit to share food in public spaces—he says there is no such city law. (There is a county law that's been on the book for years but only began to be enforced in Atlanta just before Thanksgiving).

    Completely and utterly stupid argument, repeated credulously by Reason because it's someone on their side. The new norm.

  • Longtobefree||

    More importantly, did the officers have a permit to distribute pamphlets?
    Was there any trash generated by their pamphlet distribution?
    Lock them up!

  • Longtobefree||

    If the pretext is outlawing "sharing food", there are several constitutional violations.
    First of course is that feeding the hungry is a central principle of the major religions, and is 'practicing religion' under the first amendment.
    In the specific case of Food not Bombs, their stated purpose is to "call attention to poverty and homelessness in society by sharing food in public, physically accessible places and facilitating community gatherings of hungry people". That makes the feedings free speech. Again, see the first amendment.
    If the police evidently are unconstitutionally applying the law unequally, because I cannot find any reference to a couple being arrested for splitting an ice cream cone or a sandwich.
    But then, why let a little piece of worn out paper get in the way of tyranny?

  • willard3rd||

    The only homeless I wouldn't give food or the time of day to are the criminals that make such laws- should they find themselves in the same condition one day. And then I'd kick'em!
    Unconstitutional laws or immoral laws are not laws!

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