POLL: Does feeding the homeless do more harm than good?
DENVER — This past summer, there were reports that homeless was up in Denver as much as 500 percent in some local shelters. It’s a startling statistic as the debate about how to address homelessness — including possible legislative approaches — has heated up across the nation.
The report about the rise in Denver’s homeless population pointed to the state’s legalization of marijuana as a potential culprit, with one shelter director telling the Cannabist that “of the new kids we’re seeing, the majority are saying they’re here because of the weed. They’re travelling here.”
What to do about homelessness has been a contentious issue in Denver. And that mirrors a nationwide trend according to a new report released by the National Coalition for the Homeless, which suggested 21 cities have restricted individuals or groups from sharing food with the homeless.
Denver was listed as one of those 21 cities that have already restricted food sharing services to the homeless.
Though the report did not point to any specific legislation in Denver, the city does require groups to provide proof of liability insurance and a safety deposit to obtain a permit for any event in a park with more than 25 people. And mass feedings are not considered among the accepted activities for city parks.
However, the city does work to match those who want to serve food to the homeless with agencies where the homeless tend to congregate, including local day shelters and night shelters. Individuals or groups that want to share food are able to contact designated outreach workers, who direct those inquiries to appropriate service providers.
The more noteworthy recent piece of legislation regarding the homeless in Denver was the ban against urban camping that was signed into law by Mayor Michael Hancock, who supported the ordinance from the start, in May 2012.
The ordinance prohibits camping without permission on public or private land and carries a fine of up to $999 and/or up to a year in jail. However, Denver police have mostly issued warnings when enforcing the ordinance, with no citations issued for violating of the ban as early 2014.
Despite strong opposition from the crowd at a meeting regarding the camping ban, the Denver City Council voted in favor of the ordinance 9-4.
Even Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, who said he once brought food to a homeless man living near him on a regular basis, has said he has since “realized the amount of harm that just giving food or money to homeless people does.”
Considering Hickenlooper, Hancock and the majority of Denver’s politicians are Democrats, who tend to be more sympathetic to the plight of the homeless than their Republican counterparts, the National Coalition for the Homeless’ report spoke of this time in our nation’s history as a watershed moment for the homeless.
“People remain homeless for many reasons: lack of affordable housing, lack of job opportunity, mental health or physical disability and lack of living wage jobs,” the coalition wrote. “Food-sharing does not perpetuate homelessness.”
For the record, Hancock has taken steps to address some of the coalitions specific concerns, including the implementation of a social impact bonds, aimed at providing more affordable housing in Denver as well as other services to up to 300 chronically homeless people starting in 2015.
What do you think? Does giving food to the homeless enable people to remain homeless, ultimately doing more harm than good? Cast your vote in our poll above.