Questions Not Asked on Weekend Edition on NPR

There was a toxic individual on Weekend Edition Sunday on November 9, 2014 who tied anti-feeding programs with "enabling" homeless people.  The worst was his controversial theory was unchallenged by the host.  He provided facts not supported by academic evidence.  We have a lot of experience with this matter having negotiated an agreement between the local churches and the City of Cleveland.  Robert Marbut who sells these controversial policies by claiming that church feeding programs are enabling homeless people to live outside.  "And if you give food on the street, you end up in a very convoluted way, but still an important way, you end up preventing people from going into 24/7 programming," Marbut said on the show.  This is a fundamental misunderstanding of what the church groups are doing and a huge misunderstanding of homeless people in the community.

Despite his claim to have spent time on the streets visiting homeless people, he does not understand addiction, mental health issues or poverty.  He is not advocating for a massive infusion of funds to build more affordable housing, he is proposing rearranging the deck chairs to force more people into treatment.  No city has reduced homelessness or those living outside by 80%, so his numbers are bogus.  There is no treatment on demand in most cities, and so cracking down on food distribution and quality of life issues only makes poor people into criminals. There are decade long waiting lists for affordable housing, so that even people who work full time at minimum wage cannot afford the market rate for housing.  You can't make laws that reverse decades of neglect of affordable housing.  Finally, the churches are not feeding outside because they are trying to make it easy for homeless people to live on the streets.  They are following Biblical passages to go to where the poor live and minister to them.  They are not looking to end homelessness or even to end hunger, but to proselytize to those in need of spiritual help by breaking bread with those without a home. 

Government should never get in the business of regulating the harmless activities of a church and feeding hungry people is life sustaining not enabling. There was no discussion of the other four pieces of legislation passed in Ft Lauderdale which makes it illegal to be homeless (no sitting, no camping, etc.)  We have reduced the number of people sleeping downtown for a number of reasons including a compromise with the church groups.  We did not ask the City to use law enforcement for regulating social services.  We are not under the delusion that we reduced homelessness.  We just moved the population to another area of town.   The distribution of food does not have anything to do with homelessness.  By reducing the amount of food prepared by churches does not force people to go into a shelter or a treatment center.  It forces them to move out further from the downtown or resort to criminal activity in order to get food. 

Reuters did a nice job with a feature on the cook who was arrested, which was far superior to the interview conducted on NPR.  Here are the questions that Ms. Martin missed when interviewing this homeless whisperer for cities:

  1. Who is verifying the numbers you claim with your plan to not enable homeless people with food results in fewer homeless people? 
  2. Isn't it cruel to withhold food from humans who do not have a place to store food safely?
  3. If government is allowed to restrict the distribution of food by a religious groups can they also demand membership roles in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings who are not keeping sober or bar them from giving out clothing to those who spent their money on lottery tickets instead of winter clothing?
  4. Aren't you proposing a massive expansion in affordable housing and treatment for all the people seeking food? Are there beds going to waste because church groups are enabling people with food? 
  5. You claim to be staking out the middle ground here, but the advocates who fight these ordinances claim that they do not want feeding programs.  They want housing, but do not want to restict access to a life sustaining activity until America provides universal access to housing.  Shouldn't cities be creating the sober housing and residential treatment programs for the thousands living outside and then ban feeding outside?

It is a shame these questions were never asked of this broker in human misery.

Brian Davis

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