POLL: Does feeding the homeless do more harm than good?

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Outdoor camping in downtown Denver

Urban camp sites like these were banned in Denver after a 2012 ordinance was signed into law by Mayor Michael Hancock.

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.



  • Keophus

    Yep, they’re Dems, so they MUST be more sympathetic than R’s.
    Especially when the topic is partial birth abortion, aka stabbing a newborn in the head as it’s being born.
    Do you ever think for yourself?

  • Anonymous

    Democrats, who tend to be more sympathetic to the plight of the homeless than their Republican counterparts,

    • wjriedel

      This is such a crock of bull chit. Democrats want to give them handouts so that the come onto the “plantation” of the Democrats and keep them in power. Republicans DON’T WANT that and know the problems that just giving and giving and giving do by holding them in bondage to the government and want to implement public AND PRIVATE programs to get them off the government teat. Do you realize why homelessness has increased so much since the 1960s? The Democrats passed laws that required releasing mentally ill people from institutions because it was “unjust”. However, what did they do? They couldn’t find jobs, had no money, so became homeless and continue to this day. Also, Democrats changed the laws so that even people that are drug addicts can collect SSI. Now they get their money, spend it on drugs, and never work and don’t intend to. Thank you, Democrats (sarcasm, in case you can’t figure that out.) Want to end all of this? Start electing Republicans and HOLD THEM ACCOUNTABLE!

  • Heather Erickson

    I get it… give a man a fish, he eats for a day, teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime. And yes, if you feed a stray dog it keeps coming back. But here’s the thing, are we indeed ‘teaching them to fish’. And to stay with the fishing analogy… are there enough rods, fishing holes, bait, etc? And while they are learning, we can’t let them starve. No one should ever be down on their luck and then forced to go hungry. Being hungry doesn’t inspire you to go to college, it makes you weak, fragile and susceptible to disease and doing anything you can (robbery, prostitution, drug-dealing) to get the food quickly.

  • Test

    If you don’t know the person you don’t know their needs. How can I know what will cause someone harm vs helping them out unless I know them?

  • Anonymous

    The article doesn’t address how to solve the problem just says we are supposed to stop feeding hungry people. Who is “teaching them to fish” when that starts happening on every corner I will give to that, until then I will continue to feed those in need.

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