Feeding Frenzy

Last month, Las Vegas enacted a city ordinance banning the
feeding of homeless people in public parks. The edict put the mecca
of endless buffets in rank with a host of other US cities that have
passed regulations dictating where, or whether, groups may assemble
to feed the hungry. Writing for the
Christian Science Monitor, Patrik Jonsson
lists off examples across the country: Orlando has banned mobile
food programs from setting up in nearly half its city parks; Dallas
pushed such programs out of its downtown parks; and meal volunteers
have been chased out of parks in Atlanta.

More and more, activists trying to provide decent meals to the
homeless find themselves relocated to cities’ fringes, which are
proving less accessible than downtown areas. Opponents of the bans
declare that constitutional rights such as freedom of speech and
assembly are being violated. For their part, city officials claim
feeding programs ‘lure the homeless away from the public-health
providers and shelters that can provide long-term solutions.’ Donna
Friedman, director of the Center for Social Policy at the
University of Massachusetts in Boston, doubts such claims, telling
Jonsson that the bans ‘speak more to cities trying to hide the
problem of homelessness rather than effectively deal with it.’

Catherine Komp, writing for the
New Standard, suggests that feeding
bans are the most recent step in a series of laws aiming to push
homeless people out of sight and out of mind.
National Coalition for the Homeless
(NCH) found that
begging, panhandling, and loitering laws have increased between
12 to 18 percent nationally in the last four years. San
Francisco even implemented a program called ‘Homeward Bound’
that gave one-way bus tickets to nearly 1,000 homeless people to
leave town. This ‘big battle’ in America’s downtowns, says
Michael Stoops, acting executive director of NCH, is being
fueled by business interests.

Some groups are stepping up for the fight. In another piece for
New Standard, Komp reports that the
American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada has filed a suit on
behalf of Food Not Bombs, a grassroots program serving
vegetarian meals in parks across the country. The suit claims
that the law ‘violates constitutional rights to free speech,
free exercise of religion, free assembly, due process of law,
and equal protection under the law.’ Food Not Bombs and other
anti-poverty groups aren’t the only ones affected by the bans.
Religious groups say the regulations are preventing them from
fulfilling their holy mission. The ACLU of Florida is
considering filing a similar suit against the city of Orlando on
religious grounds. Orlando City Commissioner Robert Stuart tells
Komp that the ordinance ‘appears to criminalize the good-hearted
behavior of thousands in our community who have supported those
that our city has either ignored or disregarded.’

Related Links:

Related Links from the Utne

Comments? Story tips?
Write a letter to the editor

Like this? Want more?Subscribe to Utne

In-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.