Want to feed the homeless? NJ city makes you get a permit first (Opinion)
Gut check time. I’ll issue a warning that this story is really raw and emotional but I think it needs to be shared. It is something that I’m haunted by to this day.
I was in New York City walking up Varick Street to my subway stop when I saw a young homeless man. He was standing near the stairs, during winter with no shirt. He was hugging himself and had tears running down his cheeks. He was screaming out loud to anyone who would listen, “don’t you see me? I’m hungry and I’m cold…don’t you see me?”
Those words gutted me then and they haunt me now. His words were so specific, “Don’t you see me?” it almost felt hopeful…as if to say, you must not have seen me because surely if you did see this suffering, you would never just right walk by. I thought, “my God, he thinks he is invisible”.
I decided to miss my train, I went into Chipotle while crying, and I bought a hot meal to give to him. By the time I got out he was gone. I stood there holding the bag of hot food with no one to give it to. I left it there just in case but I never got to tell him I saw him and I’ll never get over it.
On the way home I Googled resources for the homeless and I learned that if you see someone in crisis you can dial 311 on your cell phone and report their location. I did that hoping that he would return and run into help but I’ll never know.
I’m telling you all this because a town in New Jersey is planning to roll out a new ordinance that would stop agencies and people in general from feeding the homeless. You would be required to get a permit to do so and if not, you’ll get fined.
This is happening in Newark and they are not the first U.S. city to have such a provision. There are 17 other cities with the same law.
The city is saying that offering permits means that if a homeless person gets sick from bad food they can "quickly and efficiently" track the source of food. Yeah, OK.
Mayor Ras Baraka did say officials are trying to add support to the 23 homeless shelters and 55 food soup kitchens in the area which is an important effort.
Baraka also said focusing on other sources of help are more beneficial.
This way, these groups can feed our homeless in places where shelter, social services and mental health outreach are available
I know this is a very complex problem that needs more than a Chipotle meal from me to solve it but why can’t we do all of these things to help and also personally provide food (not money) to people who say they need it?
All of these policies are one thing and maybe city planners know more about this topic than I do, but if I see someone on the street again wondering if he or she is invisible, I’ll take the ticket to make sure they know I see them.
You can read more about the info from The Patch here.
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