May 18, 2011

Story Sides

The city says feeding people on the sidewalk is unsanitary. The homeless don’t have the opportunity to wash their hands before eating.

Homeless and poor people have allergies, just like everyone else, and sometimes the food given away for free on the sidewalks of Skid Row contain ingredients that make some people sick. Fights sometimes even ensue during a free food or winter coat giveaway because of accusations that someone cut in line or took the last meal or coat.

In addition, the trash that results from these free food giveaways in the form of plates and bags and discarded food is too much, and local businesses shouldn't have to put up with it.

City officials say the major missions in Skid Row are the best places for the poor and homeless to eat. Folks do not track trash into the street after eating inside a mission. There are no surprise ingredients in the food at the missions, so allergy reactions aren’t a concern. If there is a scuffle, mission security handles it.

“Feeding people on the street is not hygienic, it’s not sanitary, it’s not good for their health,” said the local city councilwoman in the L.A. Times story last year.

City officials want the homeless and poor to interact primarily if not exclusively with the major missions. The major missions receive city money to operate and have been strong supporters of the city’s crackdown on the homeless and poor that officially began in 2006.

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Charitable organizations like the Catholic Worker say sharing food with one another is a basic human right, and something the gospels have instructed people to do for thousands of years. Outlawing their oatmeal and coffee breakfast giveaway is the truly unsanitary act because the homeless will end up eating out of dumpsters and garbage cans for a morning meal, which creates more trash and unsightly behavior.

The homeless know their own allergy concerns better than anyone else, and a rare reaction at a free food giveaway is hardly a reason to shut them all down. Likewise, once in a while there is an argument about cutting in line at a food giveaway, but that’s also not a good enough reason to shut them all down. The Catholic Workers say their non-violent method of separating disputing parties is more effective than strong-armed security measures anyway.

The Catholic Workers also say they not only sweep up trash generated by their giveaways, they sweep up all other trash on the block in an attempt to make nice with the nearby businesses and residents and avoid scrutiny.

Although the L.A. and Midnight missions still serve three meals a day six and seven days a week, respectively, the Fred Jordan Mission cancelled its breakfast a month ago. The Union Rescue Mission used to offer multiple meals a day to anyone off the street, but recently it has begun charging the homeless $210 a month for a cot. Although lunch is offered to anyone on a first come first serve basis, breakfast and dinner are provided to only those who pay the monthly fee, which increases to $300 by six months.

The Catholic Workers say that shutting down food giveaways while directing the homeless to the missions at a time when the missions have cut back on free meals shows the real motive of the city: Make life as legally difficult as possible for the homeless in the hopes they leave the downtown area.

A note: Since the website shutdown last week, blogger won't let me upload photos. Also, I didn't hear back from Officer Jack Richter. 

This is Part 7 of the city's effort to criminalize feeding the homeless. Here's Part 8.


The Words Crafter said...

They can't wash their hands? Really, that's the best they can come up with? And where are they supposed to get money to pay for a cot? Unbelievable!

She Writes said...

I am not inclined, typically, to agree with the religious group representing their opinions (I often feel frustrated by the self righteous attitudes directed at the issues of the poor--BUT the Catholic Workers here nail it! NAIL it. BRAVO!

Brian Miller said...

so being the man on the street, does the city have a valid argument?

of course i side on humanitarianism, but if their arguments are valid then there are solutions.

Ed Pilolla said...

brian, it's up to you to decide on the validity of the city's arguments. i don't find them particularly compelling, and there's no reason for me to pretend otherwise. i think the city would have a much stronger case if the missions were expanding their food service, not retracting it.

the city has more compelling arguments in other aspects of the major skid row crackdown that began in 2006, something i hope to write about at some point.

Su-sieee! Mac said...

You've made me realize how sheltered my life has become since we moved out and away from big city life. I'm surprised that missions now charge homeless. Great beginning, Ed.

Wine and Words said...

Good Grief! If you live anywhere near the homeless, you know they eat out of the trash. Old food. Soiled food. Contaminated food. They got guts of steel! And being served food on the street is less sanitary??? You wanna know how many times I eat without washing my hands? I am so decidedly un-germaphobic...and I never get sick. Good Grief! Good job of attempting impartiality.

Claudia said...

they can't wash their hands before eating...think that's one of the weirdest things i've heard in my life...

Phoenix said...

This is a tough issue because I think you've tried as fairly as you could to present both sides of the argument. But there is an underlying truth here that many homeless people are subjected to religious sermons before they are allowed to eat, making these missions no better than churches, and the cities supporting these missions financially seems like a mix of church and state (which I do not support.)

Why would these missions charge money for sleeping arrangements, or cut back on meals, only to turn on those organizations that wish to fill in the gaps that these missions are leaving?

I can only imagine if Christ ever came back to this day and age and tried to feed the multitude with fishes and loaves that he would get fined by a city. Shows you what we think of as compassion these days.

Ed Pilolla said...

phoenix, you are in tune with the issues. fortunately, less missions do the sermon thing today than a couple generations ago.

you know, i don't think i was impartial. i don't think i can be. but i can accurately present the city's side. that's all i have an obligation to do.

Tori MacLennan said...

If a homeless person had $300.00 a month, wouldn't they just get someone, say another homeless person who has $300.00 a month, then rent an apartment together?

Charging the homeless a monthly fee that they likely don't have is insane. If they had money, I believe there is a good chance they wouldn't be homeless. Just crazy.