Want to Feed Atlanta’s Homeless? Prepare to Face the Police

Many homeless advocates advise that if you want to help those in need, you should give them food — not cash. But sadly, it’s becoming increasingly common for U.S. cities to punish the charitable people who put their time and money into this effort.

Police in some areas of Atlanta have begun handing out fliers to warn people that dispensing food to unsheltered homeless people without a paid permit is forbidden under local law.

Homeless advocate Marshall Rancifer explained that he was stunned when he read the material. Rancifer says he has been feeding people for 17 years without a permit.

Meanwhile, Police Chief Joseph Spillane insists that this is not a new law, explaining that the policy only aims to minimize litter. He encourages those wanting to help to volunteer at churches or shelters.

The leaflet also indicates that the law was designed out of a concern for food safety. Most curiously, though, the flier argues that giving out food is “not a long-term solution” because the homeless people who receive it “become dependent,” preventing them from “seeking the help and support that they truly need.”

These assertions suggest that such services exist but are not being utilized by unsheltered homeless people. Curiously, though, this crackdown seems to have emerged after a major Atlanta homeless shelter closed, as pointed out by Rancifer.

He also maintains that telling concerned people to volunteer at existing shelters is insufficient because, logistically, these facilities cannot help everyone. Rancifer says he will not be purchasing a permit, as they are costly and divert funds that could otherwise be used to feed the homeless.

The leaflet’s claim about “dependency” is also worthy of scrutiny. This logic is strikingly similar to the criticism employed by those who oppose social safety nets like food stamps. Though some people may abuse such systems, that’s far from the norm. In many ways, such an assertion is dehumanizing because it implies, in this case, that Atlanta’s unsheltered homeless are little more than freeloaders.

This sentiment also ignores an important reality: Many shelters will not welcome people with substance abuse or mental health issues.

And Atlanta isn’t the only place in the United States to wage a war against its most vulnerable citizens.

Tampa, Florida, for example, arrested a group of individuals for serving free meals to the city’s homeless. Similar incidents have also occurred in Orlando, Philadelphia and Raleigh.

Hawaii, New York City and other places have carried out programs involving buying their homeless residents one-way plane or train tickets in an effort to make them another municipality’s burden, rather than actually providing help.

Police in Denver, Colorado, were even found to be confiscating homeless people’s blankets, sleeping bags and tents last winter; in one case, this took place when the temperature dipped below 20 degrees.

Other places have essentially outlawed being homeless all together, usually framed as laws forbidding “urban camping.”

Being homeless should not be a crime. Cities already spend a great deal of money harassing the homeless and those that try to help them. Perhaps a better use of resources would be actually helping these individuals to become productive members of society once again.

Photo Credit: Billie Grace Ward/Flickr

67 comments

Clare O'Beara
Clare O9 days ago

Yet we are told not to give money...

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O9 days ago

As Atlanta is relatively warm in winter we can expect that homeless people may migrate there from colder states just as they do to SF. Maybe the northerly states should be made to work harder at housing those in need.

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Jetana A
Jetana A15 days ago

Stop harassing, start helping!

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Dan Blossfeld
Dan Blossfeld16 days ago

Mary B.,
Your Utopian idea is great, if it were possible. The problem is that we are stuck with the people we have now. History has shown that the possibility of that Utopian government is slim. Therefore, we must utilize what works now. Not what could possibly exist in some remote future. I have no problem with you looking for better ideas. But we must view them realistically.

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Mary B
Mary B16 days ago

Dan, and Erick. Do you understand what is past ? All that memory stuff you"re basing your present opinions on. Been there, done that. Don't want it any more. The present is what we have because of your perpetuating the past. You're still just having pie fights over those you call dems and repubs. The future requires very different thinking if you want a different out come. There is nothing wrong with a large and strong central government when it's made up of decent, caring informed people structured in a way that is DESIGNED from the beginning to serve the ordinary people of our country, instead of the wealthiest hoarders of currency and resources. Look for solutions. NEW ONES. Of course nobody's done anything with the usual ones because they never intended to. This government is set up to serve those already in power.

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Brian F
Brian F16 days ago

Many Democratic mayors are just as cruel to the homeless as the Republican ones, so this isn't so much a partisan issue. We need to adopt the Utah model of free housing first. The USA spends massive amounts of money on it's military and yet millions are homeless, and the water in Flint, Mich is still not safe to drink. We need a national law, that gives the homeless free housing first, so that their later needs can be addressed. It's cheaper to do this than pay the high cost of expensive emergency room visits, and police officers bullying the homeless. Since these mayors are so heartless and cruel, that they want the homeless out of sight, then the Federal government needs a program to provide housing for all the homeless.

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Freya H
Freya H16 days ago

And here it is!

https://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/164/735/208/

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Freya H
Freya H16 days ago

Here are some petitions that I have made on behalf of the homeless, albeit not in Atlanta. I'm working on that one.

https://www.thepetitionsite.com/548/892/915/let-homeless-people-have-access-to-portable-toilets/
https://www.thepetitionsite.com/448/470/626/cancel-the-quotcease-and-desistquot-order-against-timothys-house-of-hope/
https://www.thepetitionsite.com/500/581/839/end-houstons-cruel-war-against-the-homeless/

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Freya H
Freya H16 days ago

This is unacceptable! This nation needs to end its war on the homeless. Many policies of our corporate-controlled government, and of the corporations themselves, contribute to poverty and thus to homelessness. Stagnant minimum wage, sending jobs overseas, slashing vital public services while fighting useless and extremely expensive wars - and that's just for starters.

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caroline l
caroline lord16 days ago

happening uk also;appalling

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