The National Coalition for the Homeless has issued a report detailing laws and ordinances in a couple of dozen localities across the nation that prohibit charities – churches, civic organizations, charities, etc. – from feeding the homeless. Or, at least, inhibit their ability to do so with burdensome regulation.
You can read the full report here. Some examples:
– Gainesville, Florida began enforcing a rule limiting the number of meals that soup kitchens may serve to 130people in one day.
– Phoenix, Arizona used zoning laws to stop a local church from serving breakfast to community members, including many homeless people, outside a local church.
– Myrtle Beach, South Carolina adopted an ordinance that restricts food sharing with homeless people in public parks. …
– In Orlando, Florida the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit against the City of Orlando on behalf of local organizations, challenging a 2006 law requiring a groups sharing food with 25 or more people to obtain a permit that was only available twice a year per park. A federal district court found the law to be unconstitutional and in violation of Free Exercise of Religion and Freedom of Speech in October of 2008. The city has appealed the decision and the appeal is pending.
– In San Diego, California the zoning department attempted to prohibit a local church from serving a weekly meal to community members, many of them homeless.7 In 2008, attorney Scott Dreher successfully defended the church’s First Amendment right to practice its religion. The weekly meal continues to take place on church property and serves 150 to 200 people each week.
I did some Googling as well to flesh out more examples, and found communities all over the country who are essentially criminalizing or at least prohibiting/inhibiting private charity.
This seems like lunacy to me. There are people who are destitute and hungry. There are other people who are willing to give of their own time, talent and wealth to provide for those people. But the government is limiting their ability to do so, or in some instances stopping them.
Why? The motivation is hard to pin down. One chief motivation, no doubt, wanting homeless people out of parks and public areas. They believe that feeding them in a public place like a park only lures more homeless to that park. And some people just don’t want to see homeless people during their day-to-day lives. It’s the old “not in my back yard” attitude.
There is no doubt some truth to that, but I think there’s another motivation at work here as well.
But I think another motivation may well be that the government hates competition. Rather than allowing private charities like churches, etc. do their own part to feed the homeless I think the government would much rather homeless get help through government-sanctioned, government-funded, government-administered social programs.
Because that gives more power to the government. That justifies bigger budgets for the government. That means more bureaucrats employed by the government. And besides, the government always knows best right?
If we allow citizens to help one another, if we put the emphasis on individual acts of charity and families/friends taking care of their own, then we have a diminished need for government.
And the government isn’t in the business, these days, of promoting independence.