Food Can Kill the People Living Outside

State Rep. Marlene Anielski serves food at the 2013 Hand Up GalaAs many Americans sit down at Thanksgiving to break bread with family and friends, there are some who feel a sadness that everyone does not have the means for a feast in late November and so they want to volunteer to serve a meal to the "less fortunate."  There are thousands who reflect on the holiday and want to take a day to help the hungry.  Reservations to serve Thanksgiving meals are typically full in June of the year, and some of the big providers take reservations the previous year for this Thanksgiving.  Then there are those religious organizations who feel it is important to "minister" and serve those who stay outside.  This is a core belief for some to bring their understanding of God to people having a rough spot in their life with something warm to fill their stomachs.  

There are so many who call this month wanting to serve homeless people or want to take meals to people outside.  We understand this thinking and we know that this is how many religious communities expand their reach.  At the same time there are many cities cracking down on this activity such as Los Angeles and many Florida communities.  Before there is any misconceptions about what we have to say in this post, it must be clear that NEOCH is absolutely opposed to any government regulating any religious organization from "ministering to homeless or hungry people."   We have fought any attempt at legislation in Cleveland and in many of the Southern cities in the United States who try to restrict access to food.   NEOCH would love to see all food served inside in a manner respectful of the population, but we understand that many churches feel that enduring the weather is part of the experience of distributing the food.  It takes many back to a Biblical time with explicit directives from prophets and even God to serve the hungry.  We are clear that we will fight any attempt for government to restrict religious outreach or restrict access to food. 

In saying all that, there must be some responsibility among the churches and religious groups to not harm the people living outside.  Too much food or too much junk food can kill people.   We had a problem with volunteers wanting to come downtown to serve food only on Saturday or Sunday when there were a dozen other groups doing the same thing.  Fragile individuals with various health issues would hoard the food and eat it Wednesday when there was no meal in the downtown.  This food would spoil and rot without refrigeration and these guys would poison themselves.   We had rats attracted to the sites where this bounty of food was being served.  There were no bathrooms and not enough trash containers that created other issues.   There was no coordination; no clean up, and people were going to the hospital because of the poor food distribution.   Many of these mentally ill guys would throw away all the pasta or vegetables and keep only the Hostess cupcakes or sweets served with each of the 7 meals on Sunday.   They would be sick and would be getting very little nutrition from the food being served. I have no idea how the spiritual enrichment was going, but the food was killing people.

Again, it is inappropriate for government to jump in to regulate this situation, but the religious groups need to act more responsibly.   What we did in Cleveland to avoid legislation and avoid people dying was develop a "Covenant" for the groups.  They agree to coordinate schedules and move to a more appropriate place to serve the food.  The big issue was a large space with proper trash and a bathrooms available so people could wash up before they eat.   The churches got to continue to minister to people who are resistant to shelter or those who are hungry outdoors in an environment that they were comfortable.   The City got the groups to move away from the Public Square, but did not pass a law to restrict access to food.  Everyone got what they wanted and we do not see the issues we had in 2006.   The system is controlled and the church groups saw the potential harm they were causing.  They had not realized the health issues and chaos they were causing among social service providers and City leaders. 

Resist government restrictions, but don't close your eyes to the problems!  Spirtual outreach comes with some responsibilities. 

Brian Davis

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City of Lorain Foolish Panhandling Policy

ZERO TOLERANCE is the theme by local businesses in the City of Lorain over panhandling?  Yes, they are worried about people begging for money.  No, not zero tolerance for kids who become homeless, or food stamp cuts, or failing schools.   They do not have a zero tolerance for manufacturing jobs relocating to foreign countries or cuts to the mental health safety net, but that a guy living on the edge is asking for spare change.  Talk about misplaced priorities in Lorain--ganging up on guys with untreated behavioral health issues because they are viewed as the reason business is down in this depressed city. 

We talk often about panhandling in this space, because many confuse homelessness with panhandling.  We have written many times that panhandling laws and campaigns don't work.  People who give want to see the face of the person who benefits of their donation.  They do not want to have their donation spent on "administration."  This is short sighted among the donors, but it is a reality.  Many like that personal touch and no matter how many times they see signs to the contrary they want to give directly to someone in need.  We have this innate desire to help deep in our DNA.  

As we have written, when people are desperate enough to stand outside in the sun, rain, and snow shaking a cup, they have a real need.  Yes, it may be to feed a habit or mask the voices in their head, but those are health issues not lifestyle choices.  We need competition by non-profits (like the street newspaper) to be paid to turn panhandlers into workers.  We need health care specialists to sign these guys up for Medicaid so they can get the treatment that they need and deserve.  We need additional jobs and job training to quietly move these guys back into the workforce.  Good luck, Lorain businesses in throwing away money to reverse a practice that predates the Bible.  We hope that your "Zero Tolerance" campaign does not lead to violence and anger directed at a fragile population.  We have seen that when municipalities pass laws directed at one population hate crimes and violence increases against that population.  

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinon of those who sign the entry.

Problems With Government Homeless Policies

Housing for Disabled Turned Down for Ohio City

For the first time in Cleveland, the State of Ohio turned down tax credits to move a Permanent Supportive Housing Project forward.  There was some controversy with regard to this project, and the Plain Dealer gave coverage to the groups opposed to this property.  In an amazing stance, the liberal Green Party candidate for Cuyahoga County Executive came out against housing homeless people in his neighborhood.  One former legislator and leader in Ohio City went down to Columbus to testify against the Ohio City Permanent Supportive Housing Project.  It is unbelievable that these residents would rather have a vacant Hollywood video lot rather than a housing property with 24 hours of staff watching out for problems.  Anyway, the State of Ohio turned down tax credits.  It is not clear why the tax credits were turned down.  There were many things operating against this project not the least of which was the community opposition.  We do not know which of the issues led to this rejection.  There was a plan to provide communities with no supportive housing additional points in the selection process.  There may have been behind the scenes lobbying by state legislators, and it could have been that Cleveland area projects were awarded tax credits with five other projects.  There was the problem that the cost of this project per unit made it difficult to compare to other projects.  All of these strikes against the PSH made it difficult for the State Ohio Housing Finance Agency to support this project.  This is a loss for Cuyahoga County and for homeless people who need all the housing opportunities we can fund.  The Housing First people have vowed to keep trying next year.

We have to thank Cuyahoga County, the City of Cleveland, the Office of Homeless Services, Enterprise Community Housing, and the Cleveland Housing Network for all their work on these projects.  We would suggest that both Cuyahoga County Council and the Cleveland City Council pass resolutions opposing the state prioritizing communities without PSH developments over those advanced Housing First projects.

Philadelphia Moves to Limit Feeding Programs

The Mayor of Philadelphia is moving forward on a plan to regulate the distribution of food in public parks.  There is no good reason that City officials should pass laws regulating food.  These can all be done through compromise and agreement without having to resort to a law.  Cleveland has worked out an agreement, and this can be done in any city.   There are many reasons why there needs to be compromise including the health and safety of those eating the food, but passing a law to restrict religions from expressing their faith with the less fortunate is an assault on those religious groups.  These bans and mandatory training will only lead to court challenges and nothing being done for years.  It is unlikely that a court in Pennsylvania will side with the City of Philadelphia on this freedom to practice one's religion. 

Blasting Homeless People with Sound in San Francisco

This is a case of the City failing to act to protect all citizens in a city.  San Francisco has allowed a theater owner to blast loud music, the recording of a jackhammer and other construction sounds to be blasted in an alley to disperse people sleeping there.  You know that authorities would be all over a homeless person playing their music too loud on a boom box or other activities that "disturb the peace" for those in housing.  This blasting of music and noise is just one more example of a city giving up of ever solving homeless people. 

Brian Davis

Opinions reflect the opinions of those signing the entry