Most days, when it isn’t sweltering hot, my co-workers and I head to the park near the Law Center to enjoy lunch together. We spread out our blanket and trade snacks and stories without giving a thought to the privilege we have to do so. Around the country the very act of sitting and staying awhile in the park, or sharing a meal, can lead to expensive fines and, possibly, time in jail.
In our country, one known for both great abundance and great waste, the simple act of sharing food with someone experiencing homelessness has become a crime. Some cities impose restrictions such as arbitrary numbers of people that can be served a meal in a park or on which days groups can do so.
How can a city expect a group to decide which four days of the year they want to show compassion and use their resources to provide another human being the basic necessity of food? How can anyone restrict or penalize someone for providing another the nourishment they need to survive? It is not only being done, but is a growing trend.
Research has shown that some cities fear that providing food to homeless men and women in their city will enable those individuals to remain homeless, or that local businesses will be affected negatively by homeless peoples’ presence.
What cities should fear is that they have stopped looking at people experiencing homelessness as people. They are daughters, sons, mothers, fathers and friends that do not have somewhere to live. They live each day with uncertainty about their safety, and where their next meal might come from. Cities must work collaboratively with service providers to meet food and shelter needs in their communities.
Check out the Law Center’s new report, A Place at the Table, on food sharing restrictions and the innovative alternatives to restrictions that are being implemented around the country to meet hunger needs.
-Sarah Shubitowski, Hunger Fellow