Banned for Feeding the Hungry: Criminalizing Homeless People

Homeless and coldDaytona Beach, FL police charged a team of volunteers $2,238 for feeding homeless people in a public park and pressed trespassing charges. Additionally, the Jiminez family who head the feeding operation are banned-for-life from the park. There are over 2,200 homeless in Daytona Beach, but it is feeding them in public that is the criminal action? Apparently so, and it’s not just Florida that criminalizing homeless people and activism without reducing or eradicating homelessness.

Sounding like Republicans, Daytona police said they cracked down on the city’s Do Not Feed the Homeless laws in part because some of the homeless don’t deserve to be fed. Some are moochers. Also, you only incentivize their homelessness by feeding them in areas they can reach easily. According to Police Chief Mike Chitwood:

There is a segment of the homeless population that is homeless by choice. I don’t want to impugn them all. But some are homeless because they are sex offenders, substance abusers and bank robbers. That’s why we ask (Good Samaritans) to coordinate with our social service agencies, because they know who needs to be served.

Yes, some are sex offenders or bank robbers. We may want them in places where they’re less likely to cause harm. However, does that mean they don’t deserve to be fed? Further, if he thinks substance abusers and addicts are “homeless by choice” he should probably not be working law enforcement. This line of thinking is dangerous to public health.

The city says it has plans to build a centralized shelter for people in transition to go and get all their needs taken care of. But it’s not there yet and social agencies that work for the poor are only able to do so much (although there are 2200 people without homes in the city, there are only 800 beds for them). Furthermore, many agencies split families and exclude certain populations. There will always be those who not only slip through the cracks, but slip through the cracks of those cracks.

The Jiminez family knows it’s not wanted and is fighting the charges. But apparently they’re not the only family that isn’t wanted. As Chief Chitwood proudly proclaimed:

We as a city have spent millions of dollars to turn that park into a place for families, kids and dog lovers.

So, apparently, families can’t be homeless? Kids can’t be homeless, or hungry? And everybody knows displaced people hate dogs!

If I didn’t know better, I’d say the city of Daytona is trying to dehumanize people who don’t have permanent homes…

As Think Progress notes, Daytona Beach is not alone in cracking down on homeless feeding centers, from St Louis to Philadelphia, Orlando, Birmingham and another dozen cities. This isn’t including Sit/Lie laws that directly attack people who would dare lay or sit down in a public place. It’s gotten to the point where a UN group says these laws criminalizing homeless people violate international treaties and should be abolished.

They’re right. We could limit the amount of people wandering and living in the streets through publicly establishing and supporting mental health clinics and care, making addiction support widely available and free, raising a surplus of living wage jobs, and funding halfway houses. We may not be able to eradicate homelessness in the next generation or so, but we can actually take care of our own

In the face of reducing assistance to the poor and needy that has been the Reagan Revolution of the last thirty-five years, this trend of criminalizing homelessness tells us the bottom is out. There is no end to conservatism’s war on the poor.

How society treats the homeless is a mirror to how we treat the least fortunate, the most down-and-out among our own selves.


When he’s not riding both his city’s public transit system and evil mayor, Jasdye teaches at a community college and writes about the intersection of equality and faith - with an occasional focus on Chicago - at the Left Cheek blog and on the Left Cheek: the Blog Facebook page. Check out more from Jasdye in his archives as well!


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