Today is a holiday, and yesterday we celebrated the birthday of our nation. America was founded as a place "with liberty and justice for all."
That would be wonderful to believe, but in an incredible report, "A Place at the Table: Prohibitions on Sharing Food With People Experiencing Homelessness," the words beg to differ.
The National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty just published a study focusing on ordinances, policies and tactics that discourage or prohibit individuals and groups from sharing food with homeless persons.
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It really is quite unbelievable. If you are a soup kitchen in Gainesville, Fla., wanting to share Independence Day joy with the homeless, then you'd better not plan on feeding more than 130 people on any one day. If you want to share your food with a homeless person in Myrtle Beach, S.C., then you need a permit and any one group (or individual) can only get four a year. If you want the homeless to celebrate with a July 5 breakfast in Phoenix, Ariz., you'd better make sure it is in a church and not elsewhere.
The list goes on. No park in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., can be used for "social service" purposes without written authorization from the city. Las Vegas, Nev., the "City of Sin", decided that sin is better than doing the work of Christ and voted to ban providing food or meals to the indigent for free or a nominal price. Many municipalities have attempted to zone out the homeless by restricting what a church can do. Thankfully, because exercising religious beliefs is still constitutional, those people that would rather make homeless people go elsewhere have not prevailed.
Occasionally the laws are for the good of everyone, including the homeless, but those laws can be and will be used against the homeless. Food-safety laws and the prep kitchens that make the meals for the poor and hungry are the chief targets. It is to give the perception that the homeless eat well, but in many cases the laws are used in a manner to make sure that the homeless go elsewhere.
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The report surveyed 23 cities and found that 12 of those at some point in time limited the use of public parks for sharing food with homeless people.
These are staggering numbers, and it will be increasingly more difficult to get food to those that are the most needy. Food pantries simply do not have enough food. Amazingly, sounding more like Soviet Russia instead of America, some communities place limits on the number of people that can congregate in a public park. Some limit that number from 25 to 75 people. What about a concert or political rally? Would those numbers still apply? I think not!
As their report indicates, the ability to have food is a recognized human right and, under one international convention, a state or nation must not take action resulting in prevention of access to food. This is clearly necessary, as homelessness has increased during the recession. More than 3 million people experience homelessness during the year, and that number is expected to increase by 1.5 million.
The result is that a call for action needs to be taken. The report recommends that Congress take some. Included in their recommendations is that all homeless people be able to access Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. This is popularly known as food stamps. This would allow people who can't travel to feeding centers or even parks to get food at a local store. It would mean that the old and infirm would not have to stand in line while waiting for the food van to arrive. It would result in people being empowered to purchase food and still maintain their dignity.
Isn't dignity what our country was founded on? Aren't basic human rights what our revolution was fought for? Isn't gathering on a public green to eat something what our Founding Fathers would have wanted? Let's hope so, and let's hope our elected officials remember what this country has stood for these last 234 years.