Updated: Sep 6, 2019
“We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked, and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for is the greatest poverty.” –Mother Teresa
What does petty theft, possession of an illegal drug, and feeding the homeless all have in common? They can all land you in jail in over twenty-one cities in the United States and this number keeps growing. Since January 2013 over twenty-one cities in our nation have criminalized feeding the homeless. Some of these cities include Fort Lauderdale Florida, Columbia South Carolina, San Francisco California, Houston Texas, Manchester New Hampshire, among many others. If you are caught feeding the homeless in these cities without a proper permit, you can face fines up to $500 and up to 60 days in jail. These permits can be expensive. In Raleigh, North Carolina in order to obtain a one-day permit to feed the homeless in a park costs an outstanding $800. Let me emphasize that this outrageously priced permit is only good for 24 hours and that $800 dollars could have been used to feed many families in need. This is just another way for irresponsible municipalities to suck more money out of the people that need it the most though either permits or fines. Local charities are not abundantly wealthy and a lot of them are struggling, barely surviving off of the donations of the caring but because of this law, many organizations have had to cut back on feeding the homeless due to a lack of funds. Now homeless Americans are starving with little hope of being fed by a compassionate individual or even a charity. What would be the reasoning behind this? Public officials claim that it is for public safety and health while mayors give out pathetic excuses to try and rationalize these heinous laws. There laws are an inexcusable abomination. They are cruel, they are inhuman and they are enacted by people who are lucky enough to have never experienced homelessness themselves and do not know what it is like to go hungry. Those entrusted with a position of power should not abuse that power in a cruel fashion by pushing through laws that lead to starvation.
Laws should be put in place to create a civil and safe society, not to stop compassionate individuals from feeding the homeless and treat the humanitarians as if they were criminals. When a law is put in place to stop one person from helping another and when a law is enacted to legislate against the better nature of our humanity is when the people that put those laws in place have gone too far and crossed moral lines. The twisted and fallacious logic behind putting these laws in place is the belief that by not allowing the homeless to be fed by the generosity of others, it is somehow going to help lessen homelessness and help increase general public safety; or more cynically will cause the homeless to move to another, more welcoming community to make the homeless their problem while also increasing their own property values. These people see the homeless as a problem and their way to solve this problem is to remove what keeps them alive. Homeless people are already at the lowest point of their life. To be treated as less than human, not even allowed to be fed by a Good Samaritan under threat of statutory punishment is a morally reprehensible. We are a just nation and this law is beneath us and should have never been seriously considered by any American community.
The unfortunate thing is that many American citizens are not aware that these laws are in place and have been treated as if they were a criminal when these repugnant laws are enforced. This is what happened recently to a young man by the name of Zach from San Francisco only a few weeks ago. Zach was giving a warm meal to a shivering homeless man late at night when two officers approached them. The officers then preceded to harass the homeless man for staying in one location for too long and when Zach stood up and asked that they just allow the homeless man to eat a warm meal before having to move, the officers then harassed and threatened to fine Zach for his compassion because he contravened an immoral law by feeding someone who was hungry without a proper permit. Zach stood his ground risking legal repercussions and stood up for the starving stranger beside him, and eventually the police relented, but only after it was pointed out that they were being unjust and cruel.
Zach’s actions should be a beacon of light showing us how we should behave. We are Americans. We are a nation of people who are passionate about bringing justice and relief to our neighbors and showing compassion to those in need. It now time to write to the mayors of these cities and tell them how we feel about these morally bankrupt regulations being put in place. Let’s stand up for the underdog, the ones that are going hungry and need our help, and tell those in charge that these laws are unjust, un-American and should be removed immediately. American citizens should never fear legal prosecution for doing the right thing; we should never legislate against mercy and charity. How dare these leaders persecute the Americans most in need of help! How dare they punish the sympathetic and generous for alleviating suffering. We are a strong nation filled with citizens that hold strong opinions and our opinions can be heard. We will move mountains when the cry is loud enough, so let’s unite and stand up for those that cannot stand up for themselves. Callous bureaucracies and self-interested politicians have thrown down the gauntlet, and we must pick it and defend the defenseless. A measure of a good society is not how it worships its greatest citizens but the quality of its mercy to its least members.