Mayor Nutter issued an attack on the homeless population in Philadelphia today with his ban on public feedings. It will allow police to fine those who feed groups of 3 or more in public parks. Exceptions include picnic and permitted events. That means groups like churches, homeless advocacy organizations, and do gooders from Occupy Philly would not be able to feed our friends and neighbors in places like Love Park, Fairmount Park, Clark Park...well, no where, really. This, Nutter claims, is all in the name of the "public interest."
If that's true, then why are other activities unregulated such as indoor feedings, block parties, or picnics with scores of family and friends? Even eating out of the garbage is not regulated. So why all the trouble to suddenly care about public health hazards? Has there been a mass outbreak of the noro-virus due to a public feeding? Actually, there has not.
This legislation is not about health. Instead, its the City's attempt to make Center City look a whole lot prettier for the wealthy who reside in the area, Philly's 10- 20 %ers. To the Mayor and his administration, homelessness is akin to a junked car or abandoned home. Its bad for business and devalues property which is why they want to push the homeless indoors.
There are over 4,000 homeless people in the city of Phildelphia and a growing number of them are veterans. The problem is undeniable and public feedings draw attention to the rising number of Americans who suffer from mental illness, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, home forclosures, and abuse. These people have been through a lot. Most have been in and out of shelters with bed bugs, state psychiatric facilities, emergency rooms, prisons, jails, and rehab. Some just got down on their luck when they lost their jobs and homes and then they wound up on the street. But they are real people. Smart, funny, talented, amazing people who happen to live outside and be poor. Yet, most people don't even make eye contact with them . Instead, they walk right past them and pretend they are not there because looking at them is uncomfortable at first.
Meals bring people together and allow people to talk and spend time together. As a result, food is a big part of community and culture. In Philly we have the ability to share resources and facilitate public feedings because there is a surplus of food. Just ask any dumpster diver how much food is wasted on a daily basis. Food is not scarce in this city, however access to it is. By providing access to donated food, we allow the have nots to have a meal and share in our community.
There is much work to be done to eradicate hunger in Philadelphia and Camden, as there are thousands of families who continue to live below the poverty line. Alternatively, we provide more in the form of emotional support and friendship when we do these feedings. You see, this fight is about more than just the ability to provide the hungry with nourishment, its about having a public space where we can interact with with each other and make them feel like they are valued. Most homeless live in the shadows. They sleep underground, in abandoned houses, in the woods, and other desolate places but when we offer food and friendship, they come into the light and become visible. We show them we care and that they matter.
What Mayor Nutter is doing is deplorable. He fully understands the implications of restricting food access to the city's most vulnerable citizens instead of creating programs that facilitate and support this community activity. Yet, here we have another attempt to privatize Center City and make public spaces inaccessible to those who are confronting hunger head on. Its become clear time and time again that he serves the interests of the elite. Imagine that.
The solution? TAKE ACTION!
Come to this important Rally at Thomas Paine Plaza at 4PM Thursday, March 15 and join others who are taking a stand against this injustice. There will be a Public Feeding at 5PM and then we will go to City Hall for a Hearing with the Board of Public Health at 5:30 PM. We are fighting for social change and value being compassionate to others. This is our chance to organize and tell Mayor Nutter we're not going to let him get away with such blatant discrimination!