Sunday, July 21, 2024

No Giving Tuesday Here: Is Your City Trying To Make Feeding The Homeless Illegal?

After most of us spent last Thursday being thankful for the ability to belly up to a feast and go back for seconds — and then put on our stretchiest pants the next day to trample our neighbors in a consumerist thunderdome known as The Mall — the dust and gravy start to clear.

If you’re feeling burned out from hitting the sale sections on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, today is “Giving Tuesday,” marking the start of holiday charitable giving season.

But if you’re hoping to give out food to the homeless as part of your holiday spreading of goodwill toward men, you might be entering a complicated legal snarl, depending on where you live.

In 2012, feeding people in public made national headlines when a 90 year old World War II veteran was arrested twice for trying to feed people in Fort Lauderdale. An ordinance “regulates the activity in order to ensure it is carried out in an appropriate, organized, clean and healthy manner” and “permits indoor food distribution to take place at houses of worship throughout the city,” according to the Sun-Sentinel. But even at houses of worship, those looking for a spot to rest are sometimes met with hostility, as a cathedral in San Francisco sprayed them with water to keep them out.

Mother Jones published a report on this issue:

In Orlando in 2011, more than 20 activists got arrested while ladling food for about 35 people in a park, in violation of the city’s restrictions on feeding the homeless. In 2013, police threatened to arrest members of a Raleigh, North Carolina church group who regularly hand out coffee and sausage biscuits to the needy on weekend mornings. Just this May, six people in Daytona Beach, Florida were fined more than $2,000 for feeding homeless people at a park. (The fines were ultimately dropped.)

In July, St. Louis officials considered a bill that would make it illegal to give anything away between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. “If a person is on the street and I have two sandwiches why won’t I give them one? Its decency and common sense and I will continue to do that,” outreach volunteer Laura Shields told St. Louis Public Radio.

Here are some of the reasons law enforcement and city officials give for these bans on feeding the homeless, from a Low Income Housing Authority blog:

  • The city is concerned about food safety and making the homeless ill
  • The city requires permits (for a fee, of course) in order to distribute free food
  • The city has strict food preparation guidelines
  • The city requires food distribution to be done indoors only
  • The city wants to make homeless people go away
  • The city says that food given to the public can not be prepared in a “non-commercial” kitchen

Here’s where to check if you’re living in one of the 71 cities that’s restricting food sharing practices. The National Coalition for the Homeless also outlines ways to help, in addition to giving that extra sandwich away.


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