Helping the homeless shouldn’t be a crime

ASHLEY FISHER | Evergreen columnist

Add, “feeding the hungry” and “being homeless” to the growing list of activities the government bans you from doing.

Earlier this month, police stopped a minister from Birmingham, Ala., from serving homeless individuals meals from his food truck. Minister Rick Wood said the police forced him to leave the area because he did not have a permit from the health department, according to an article by ABC 33/40.

The act of sharing food with the hungry is now against the law. Sadly, Birmingham is just one example of the numerous cities across the United States that has implemented these types of restrictions.

Laws that ban providing aid in the form of shelter and food to the homeless are completely absurd. Not only are these laws ignoring the root causes of homelessness, but they are actually serving to perpetuate homelessness as well.

Recent policies seem to deliberately ensure the homeless population receives as little food and help as possible. Minister Wood realized that without purchasing expensive permits and abiding by tedious regulations, his simple acts of charity are criminal. And as Minister Wood learned, police are standing by ready to enforce these laws, since apparently they have nothing better to do than take food away from the homeless.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. Several years ago the New York City Department of Homeless Services began enforcing new nutritional rules for food served at city shelters. As expected by the agency, since DHS cannot evaluate the nutritional content of donated food, shelters are forced to turn away food from the generous public, according to an article by the New York Post. DHS claims this policy ensures that homeless people receive nutritious food, but anyone can see all this law does is limit the amount of food available.

Now that the U.S. has established that giving to the homeless is unlawful, they are making the condition of being homeless essentially illegal as well.

Atlanta, Phoenix, San Diego, Los Angeles, Miami, Oklahoma City and more than 50 other cities have already adopted some kind of anti-camping or anti-food-sharing laws, according to USA TODAY.

Laws like these do not eradicate the homeless population, but simply leave people with no place to eat or sleep since many cities lack emergency food services and shelters.

The laws are also extremely counterproductive. Citing homeless individuals who violate such ordinances – which is almost impossible for them not to do – hurts their ability to obtain jobs and housing because many acquire criminal records. If anything, these laws are functioning to either keep the homeless on the street or put them in jail.

Our country’s unforgiving nature towards the homeless population is not passing by unnoticed. Last Thursday, “the U.N. Human Rights Committee… condemned the criminalization of homelessness in the United States as ‘cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment’ that violates international human rights treaty obligations, and called upon the U.S. government to take corrective action,” according to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.

Our state and federal government should be ashamed they have mistreated the homeless population to such an extent that it has attracted international attention.

State and federal laws that criminalize the homeless population should be overturned, and new policies should be implemented that actually help one of the most afflicted groups in our society.

Time and time again, U.S. laws and policies prove that nothing is less compassionate than the overreaching hand of the government.