Sunday, February 13, 2011

A PLACE AT THE TABLE (an excerpt)

Three years after the 2007 publication of Feeding Intolerance: Prohibitions on Sharing Food with People Experiencing Homelessness, cities still choose to implement measures that criminalize homelessness and, at times, penalize those who serve homeless persons.

These measures, such as anti-camping laws, often target activities homeless people are forced to do in public spaces because of their lack of a home or shelter.

This report specifically focuses on ordinances, policies, and tactics that
discourage or prohibit individuals and groups from sharing food with homeless persons. Uncomfortable with visible homelessness in their communities and influenced by myths about homeless people’s food access, cities use food sharing restrictions to move homeless people out of sight, an action that often exacerbates the challenges people experiencing homelessness face each day just to survive.

The report also highlights constructive alternatives to food sharing restrictions, in the form of innovative programs that both adults and youth are implementing to share food with people experiencing homelessness in their communities.

Increasing Homelessness and Hunger Across the U.S.
Many people are confronting homelessness and hunger in the current economic recession, some for the first time. The 2009 Hunger and Homelessness Survey conducted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors found:
*82% (22 of 27) of cities surveyed, in 2009, reported having to make adjustments to
accommodate an increase in the demand for shelter over the past year.
*25% of requests for emergency food assistance went unmet in 2009.
*26% was the average increase in demand for assistance reported by cities in 2009, which represents the largest average increase since 1991.

Growing Restrictions by Cities on Food Sharing
More cities have chosen to target homeless individuals by restricting groups or individuals who share food with homeless people in private and public spaces, since 2007. Examples of these measures include:

*Gainesville, Florida began enforcing a rule limiting the number of meals that soup
kitchens may serve to 130 people in one day.

* Phoenix, Arizona used zoning laws to stop a local church from serving breakfast to
community members, including many homeless people, outside a local church.

*Myrtle Beach, South Carolina adopted an ordinance that restricts food sharing with
homeless people in public parks. Although permits are free, groups may only obtain a
permit four times a year.

Legal Challenges and Human Rights Implications
Such restrictions raise legal issues, and some have been challenged in court. For example:

▪ In Orlando, Florida the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit against the City of Orlando on behalf of local organizations, challenging a 2006 law requiring a groups sharing food with 25 or more people to obtain a permit that was only available twice a year per park. A federal district court found the law to be unconstitutional and in violation of Free Exercise of Religion and Freedom of Speech in October of 2008. The city has appealed the decision and the appeal is pending.

▪ In San Diego, California the zoning department attempted to prohibit a local church from serving a weekly meal to community members, many of them homeless. In 2008, attorney Scott Dreher successfully defended the church's First Amendment right to practice its religion. The weekly meal continues to take place on church property and serves 150 to 200 people each week. Such restrictions also raise human rights concerns. The right to food is a recognized human right, explicitly addressed in over 120 instruments of international law since 1920 and included in the
domestic constitutions of 22 nations. The International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) explains that states have an obligation to respect, protect and fulfill certain rights. For the right to food this means a state, or nation, must not take action resulting in preventing access to food, must ensure that enterprises or individuals do not deprive someone of their access to food, and must take proactive action to increase access to food.

*Taken from "A Place at The Table" - A Report by the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, July 2010

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