Stop treating the homeless like animals

Eli Federman Columnist
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Growing up my father would give food to a homeless man, named Shaun, by Ralphs Supermarket in Los Angeles, CA. Years later, I encounter Shaun. After hearing of my fathers passing, Shaun handed me his only possession, a worn-out beaded necklace and said, “many people gave me handouts but your father treated me with dignity and respect. He gave me the time of day. He viewed me as a person, not an animal.”

The Los Angeles City Council is considering a ban on feeding homeless people in public areas. Such a ban treats homeless people like animals because it assumes that they will act like animals if fed in public.

One LA ordinance forbidding the feeding of coyotes describes the rationale as not to attract wildlife or encourage wildlife to depend on handouts from humans. The homeless feeding ban has frighteningly similar rationales.

One of the advocates for the ban told the New York Times that giving out free food on the streets “with no other services to deal with the collateral damage, …[leads to]… hundreds of people beginning to squat.”

The ban implies that feeding homeless people will create dependency and somehow increase the problem of squatting and homelessness. Just like feeding animals could cause animals to become reliant on people and return in droves.

City Council members Tom LaBonge and Mitch O’Farrell introduced the resolution after complaints from various residents. Over 50 cities have previously adopted some kind of anti-camping or anti-food-sharing laws, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.

The core problem with these laws is that they presuppose homeless people will act like animals. These laws dehumanizes them. Passing laws against aggressive panhandling, sleeping in restricted areas, and other specific homeless acts that could be considered nuisance or even criminal makes sense, but preventing people from feeding the homeless is just wrong.

For the sake of Shaun and others let’s start treating the homeless like humans by allowing good Samaritans and charitable organizations to feed them in public. This will help transition them into society. Give them the dignity and respect they deserve. And prevent the government from legislating against charitable feeding, much of it performed by faith-based organizations.

Eliyahu Federman writes frequently on religion, culture, business and law. Follow him on Twitter @EliFederman and find him on Facebook.com/eli.federman