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The Rising Criminalization of Homelessness

Volunteers Distributing Food Arrested, Bleach Dumped on Food for Homeless

The Rising Criminalization of Homelessness

Photo Credit – Baitulmaal. Philadelphia PA

As the number of homeless continues to rise across the United States, nonprofit organizations who have been struggling just to provide meals are facing new challenges from local governments in 2018, who they are accusing of criminalizing homelessness.

In January of this year twelve volunteers were arrested in El Cajon, California for distributing food and hygiene kits to homeless in a park, while just last week, health inspectors in Kansas City, MO confiscated and then went as far as pouring bleach in food to make it inedible before trashing it. Health inspectors claimed they were trying to stop the spread of foodborne disease, but outrage from the community forced them to back off as food distributions went off without a hitch in Kansas City this past weekend.

These aren’t isolated incidents.  More than 71 cities across the USA have tried or successfully enacted what are deemed “feeding bans”. These local ordinances add additional hurdles on volunteers who are simply trying to distribute food to homeless populations, many requiring permits to distribute in public parks. Activists say the real goal of these new regulations is to try to push homeless away from important city districts such as downtown areas due to pressure from businesses.  According to a Newsweek article “a report called “Housing Not Handcuffs” surveyed and tracked 187 cities since 2006 and found that 6 percent of cities banned food-sharing in public spaces. About 47 percent of those cities banned sitting or sleeping in public, and many had laws against sleeping and camping in public spaces. Homeless people can be fined or even incarcerated for violating these laws.”

Many of these ordinances are actually starting to backfire on local governments. They have been an effective way to bring attention to the cause of helping those in need, and have started to bring pressure on local politicians to take an alternative track as the outrage in Kansas City this past week forced local officials to back away and let volunteers reach those in need.