Butler says many homeless complain of the taste of food at city-run shelters, and that the ban may increase traffic to private shelters — at least at meal time — in the short term as the homeless seek more palatable food.
“It’s a huge scandal, the amount of people who go hungry in this country, and the government does this?” Butler said.
Other heads of charitable organizations tried to empathize with the mayor, but still had major concerns about the restrictive new policy.
“The goal is ensuring food quality and safety,” R. Brent Lang, chairman of the Community Impact Fund and director of the Surrey Foundation, told The DC. “Sounds noble, but it is restrictive and overrides current providers.”
Lang says it is “ironic” that the government is doing this now, because private charities are the originators of soup kitchens, shelters and food donations for the poor, and they “existed for centuries prior to the government recognizing this need and institutionalizing this service.”
Lang said he believes that taking care of the homeless should be left up to volunteers and philanthropists: “The lowest-cost — and most efficient — source of food to arrive in the hand and mouths of the hungry is to allow those most capable of delivering it — donors and trained volunteers — to find the solution. The nonprofit sector identifies needs and organizes to fill the gap. They do so because there is a real humanitarian need.”
But being seen as a “humanitarian,” as that word is traditionally understood, has little to do with the new policy, some say.
“The mayor has, as you know, long prided himself on cutting edge policies,” said Stier. “We’re getting lot of feedback on this, if you will pardon the pun. People are outraged. This cuts across political lines. People on the left in homeless services are concerned. The nanny state is run amuck.”
But some activists on the political left — public interest lawyers active around the country — seem to agree with the Bloomberg policy and hope it serves as a legal precedent for other big city mayors across the U.S.
In Washington, D.C., George Washington University School of Law professor John Bensaf praised Bloomberg for his activism in this instance, saying the policy may be as “effective” as the mayor’s ban on smoking in restaurants was in recent years, which, Bensaf notes, led to more public smoking bans than California’s earlier-established precedent ever did.
“What the mayor is going after here is obesity,” Bensaf said. “That is our second biggest health care cost. This is one of the things we have been fighting for.”
Bensaf has been active in using the courts to advance liberal public policy goals for years and was involved in anti-cigarette smoking litigation as well as more recent lawsuits seeking to eliminate foods with high sugar content and saturated fats.
“The problem is, and the underlying reasoning is, that by serving salty, fatty, high-calorie foods, the government is encouraging obesity among the poor,” Bensaf told TheDC. “Now they are getting out of the business of facilitating obesity.”