When we think of religious freedom lately, we tend to think of the florists, bakers, and wedding planners who refuse, on religious grounds, to participate in gay weddings. But even before the Supreme Court redefined marriage, a different battle ground was forming.
To provide the homeless with food is now a crime in many cities in America.
It doesn’t take much to become homeless today. A lost job, an illness, a divorce. And it’s tough to find work today. It’s nearly impossible after you’ve lived outside for a couple days. With more people living in cars and on heating grates, programs to feed and shelter the homeless are straining to meet needs. If established programs are struggling, there will be hunger in the streets.
Many people are reluctant to hand cash to the homeless. You don’t want to help feed an addiction. That’s why my husband and I try to have gift cards on hand when we might encounter those in need. With a gift card for fast food, you really can’t do much else but get food.
There is also the argument that feeding people on the streets enables them to continue in this homeless lifestyle.
Many homeless suffer from mental illness. Many are our vets, plagued by PTSD. Some are there because drug addiction pushed them out of their homes. Some become addicted to drugs in order to blot out the trauma that accompanies homelessness. More often than ever, the homeless include parents with children. Some are new to this way of life and just need a helping hand to escape. Can a paper bag with fast food in it make this life seem appealing? Does a hollow belly lead people to find recovery programs? Given the numbers, that strategy has come up lacking.
But the people getting in trouble, threatened with fines and arrest, are those who are passing out food to the homeless.
I guess the logic here is that, if they’re hungry, they’ll go someplace else. My city won’t have such a bad problem anymore. That logic, if it worked, wouldn’t solve anybody’s problem. It would just move it around. In 2007, Mayor Bloomberg implemented strident changes. Homelessness in the Big Apple surged. Problem definitely not solved.
“There, but for the grace of God, go I,” my mother used to say. We seem to have lost that heart today.
Except for those who want to feed the homeless. Those who are finding themselves responding to court dates.
Like 90 year old Arnold Abbott in Fort Lauderdale in the fall of 2014. The police stood around for 45 minutes allowing Abbott to complete his food distribution before arresting him. That might make us wonder about the difference between those who pass laws and those tasked with carrying them out.
When the officers let Abbott continue his work before taking him into custody, they were waiting to arrest him for the second time. Apparently, nobody likes bad press. The first time, police threw away the food he was preparing to distribute right in front of the homeless lined up to receive it.
Maybe for those hungry people, the indignity of being on the streets cancels out the horror of digging their food out of trash cans and dumpsters.
As ever, here is an opportunity for a united Church to make a statement. The poor are not the responsibility of government. Even if that were the case, the government’s solutions just aren’t solving anything.
In A Christian Manifesto written in 1984, Francis Schaeffer predicted that Christians would someday have to engage in civil disobedience. Every time, I thumb through his words, I am astonished at just how prophetic his writing was.
It’s just that I couldn’t have imagined feeding hungry people would ever become a crime.
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