No Place at the Table

Across the nation, cities restrict charitable meal programs for the hungry and homeless. “As the recession and foreclosure crises drive dramatic increases in poverty and homelessness, communities should be embracing solutions to homelessness, rather than punishing people for feeding those in need.” — Maria Foscarinis

WASHINGTON, DC — The National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty released a report in July 2010 that focuses on cities that have created laws, policies and tactics to limit groups from sharing food with homeless people..

The report, entitled A Place at the Table: Prohibitions on Sharing Food with People Experiencing Homelessness, also highlights positive alternatives to penalizing food-sharing activities by charities, nonprofit agencies and volunteers.

Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the Law Center, said, “As the recession and foreclosure crises drive dramatic increases in poverty and homelessness, communities should be embracing solutions to homelessness, rather than punishing people for feeding those in need. Restricting food sharing is not a constructive approach.”

The report argues that targeting churches, service providers and volunteers by placing restrictions on providing food to homeless people is part of a broader trend toward criminalizing homelessness. Criminalization measures include city laws that outlaw activities homeless people are forced to do in public spaces because of their lack of a home or shelter, such as sitting on sidewalks and eating and sleeping in public.

These laws have been created in communities nationwide and are an ineffective response to homelessness. The report outlines how different types of laws and tactics are being used to restrict food sharing.

“The criminalization or restriction of specific activities that seek to serve people experiencing homelessness should cause any community to sound an alarm that their ability to meet the needs of those who are least among them is compromised and needs fixing,” said Neil Donovan, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless.

National advocacy groups argue that access to food is both a human need and right. When cities prohibit the charitable act of sharing food with homeless people, the city is hindering crucial access to food for the homeless population. City leaders must instead look towards alternatives, including working with food-sharing groups, promoting innovative programs in their communities and utilizing federal nutrition programs.

Art by Christa Occhiogrosso

Art by Christa Occhiogrosso

 

The report highlights food sharing restrictions in 23 communities across the country, including: Atlanta, Ga.; Cincinnati, Ohio; Cleveland, Ohio; Denver, Colo.; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Fort Myers, Fla.; Gainesville, Fla.; Huntington, N.Y.; Las Vegas, Nev.; Little Rock, Ark.; Miami, Fla.; Middletown, Conn.; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Nashville, Tenn.; Orlando, Fla.; Phoenix, Ariz.; Portland, Or.; San Diego, Cal.; San Juan, P.R.; Sarasota, Fla.; Sultan, Wash.; West Palm Beach, Fla.; and Wilmington, N.C.

The full report is available online at www.nationalhomeless.org and www.nlchp.org.

 

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