Raleigh made national news last year when police threatened to arrest faith leaders
who were handing out biscuits to homeless people in Moore Square Park. But, as we learned last week after a 90-year old Florida man was arrested
for doing the same thing, Raleigh isn't the only city where it's illegal to give food to hungry people.
A recent report
from the National Coalition for the Homeless has found that 21 cities have passed legislation prohibiting residents from sharing food with homeless people since January 2013, and another ten cities are in the process of passing similar laws.
Cities can attempt to prohibit people from sharing food in three ways, according to the report. First, as 12 cities including Raleigh have done, they can place restrictions on distributing food on public property by putting expensive permit fees in place. A single permit per-day costs $800 to use Raleigh parks to serve or distribute food.
Second, cities can require people to comply with stringent food safety regulations to discourage them from sharing food. And third, communities can levy pressure from businesses and homeowners to drive out organizations that serve food to the homeless.
While sharing food in Raleigh parks without a permit is still illegal, Raleigh leaders compromised with local faith leaders, opening the Oak City Outreach Center
which provides meals to homeless people on weekends when soup kitchens are closed. Mecklenburg County also provides a space for groups to share food with homeless people, after community pressure made the practice illegal in Charlotte. (Sharing food in public spaces is also illegal in Wilmington, N.C.)
The NCH report stresses that cities’ efforts to restrict food sharing on public property coincide with an increasing need for food assistance across the country, where an estimated 1 in 6 people go hungry each day, according to non-profit Feeding America.
A 2013 Hunger and Homelessness Survey, conducted by the United States Conference of Mayors, found that out of 25 cities surveyed
- 83% reported an increase in the number of emergency food requests over 2012
- 91% reported an increase in number of people requesting food assistance for the first time
- 80% reported an increase in frequency of visits to food pantries and emergency kitchens each month
- 78% had to reduce the number of times a person could visit the food pantry each month
- 66% had to turn people away due to lack of resources
“Budget cuts and criminalization efforts are misdirected, narrow in scope and neglect to make long-term policy changes that work to eradicate homelessness,” the NCH report concludes. “Limiting access to food will likely leave many hungry and with few alternatives for finding adequate nutrition.”