Art by Chris Chen
As we approach the holiday season, many people look forward to spending time with family, giving thanks, eating good food and giving back to the community.
News feeds will likely soon be filled with volunteer opportunities, Thanksgiving missions and Foodshare donation requests, as there are an estimated 51,000 homeless people living in LA County, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. Next week, the Pepperdine Volunteer Center will be participating in the National Week of Hunger and Homelessness, which aims to educate students and inspire them to serve.
As Pepperdine students, we are encouraged to live lives of “purpose, service and leadership.” But what if the law prevents us from doing so?
If you were planning to give back by feeding the homeless this holiday season, you might have to find a different way to give thanks.
Arnold Abbott, a 90-year-old man residing in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, was recently arrested for the second time for violating a new city ordinance that places restrictions on food sharing in the city, essentially making his charity — which feeds Fort Lauderdale’s homeless — illegal.
According to the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and the National Coalition for the Homeless, the city’s ordinances prohibit leaving food or clothing in a park as a way of donation. Secondly, any group who desires to “feed the needy” must obtain a permit, according to Santa Monica, California, Municipal Code, Article 5.
This is an example of a developing pattern of degradation and dehumanization of the homeless not only among the public but also the government. Legal actions such as this are a large contributor to the public taking a step back in the process of helping rehabilitate and assist those who do not have access to basic, reliable living essentials.
Hunger is a prominent problem in many areas of the United States. California, Ohio and many Southern states have experienced extreme cases of hunger in comparison to national averages, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. This can be derived from many circumstances, including but not limited to economic instability, high cost of living, addiction and mental health instability. Additionally, “major cities have much higher rates of food insecurity than non-major cities,” according to the USDA.
Malibu is one of the many cities across the U.S. that has attempted to put bans or restrictions on feeding the homeless, according to nationalhomeless.org. Santa Monica already has legislation that limits food sharing to the homeless in multiple ways.
The reasons behind these laws and regulations range from safety concerns to food safety to maintaining a clean community image to preventing the encouragement of homelessness.
Cities such as Fort Lauderdale see feeding the needy as a means of enabling the homeless to continue their lifestyle. By providing food for those who don’t have it, according to the government, you are allowing them to continue to be poor and unsheltered by choice.
Due to varying degrees of interactions with the homeless, it is easy for many to agree with the implementation of these new laws. However, when you take into consideration the effect these laws could have on those deprived of living necessities, it is clear that these implementations have the potential of doing more harm than good.
These pieces of legislation and the rhetoric that surrounds them support the dehumanization of the homeless. If the homeless are not fed, they will not simply go away or cease to be a public concern. This idea is shallow and unreasonable. The homeless population will still exist if people are not able to donate food to them, but they will most likely have to find other means of food or simply go hungry.
It is true that not all interactions with homeless individuals are positive or reaffirming. Most people that view the homeless as public nuisances have likely had negative past experiences that caused this perception. For example, the homeless may be stereotypically considered addicts.
However, by giving a food donation, you are not enabling any of the vices they may have, which are often assumed to involve alcohol or drugs — reasons why many people are wary of donating to the homeless. Physically giving a homeless person food only fulfills their basic human need to eat.
Food safety and public safety may be viable concerns, but the focus on enabling and the dehumanizing messages released by government officials do nothing to change or beneficially impact the issue of homelessness. This form of giving cannot be simply reduced to a policy similar to “don’t feed the birds or they will come back for more,” because homeless people are not birds. They are human beings. These messages are detrimental to society and show a marked lack of compassion toward the plight of the homeless community.
The purpose of these laws should be to protect the community and the homeless population, not to dissuade people from offering help to the homeless at all.
Now that you know some of the laws and ordinances against feeding the homeless and the many prejudices which come with the issue of homelessness, what are you going to do this Thanksgiving? Are you going to go the extra mile to learn about the rules and regulations of handing out a peanut butter sandwich to a hungry homeless person, or will you succumb to the laws of the city and let your Thanksgiving leftovers rot in the back of your fridge?
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