Bobby and Amanda Herring, along with a number of volunteers, used to feed some of the people experiencing homelessness in downtown Houston, Texas. For about a year, they dispensed between 60 and 120 meals a day, made from food donated by individuals and businesses. Then, reporter Bradley Olson tells us,
On Nov. 8, they were approached by Houston police officers and asked to provide food at another location under an overpass at Commerce and Travis streets adjacent to Buffalo Bayou, he recalled. They were happy to move to the new location and continued to provide food there until Dec. 30, when a park ranger and two police officers told them they would have to stop until they could obtain a permit.
Actually, they would need two permits, one from the parks department and one from the health department. The place they were moved to is on city park land, and it’s not clear why they can’t move back to the old location, except now this health permit thing has also come up.
Here’s a piece of official reasoning worthy of George Orwell. You know, the slogans from his dystopia of Nineteen Eighty-Four: “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength.” Now, we got “Starvation is Health.” The following statement was made by Kathy Barton of the Health and Human Services Department. The regulations are all the more essential in the case of the homeless, Barton said, because “poor people are the most vulnerable to foodborne illness and also are the least likely to have access to health care.”
Connie Boyd of the Coalition for the Homeless offered hope that by connecting with another group, perhaps a local church that already has a certified kitchen and certified food manager, the Herrings could continue their mission.
Ryan S. Riddell is pastor of the Shelter Community Church of the Nazarene in Dayton, Ohio, where there are about 4,000 people experiencing homelessness that he wants to help. Riddell is also in the real estate business and the roofing business. He has been making a video diary of his 30 days of voluntary homelessness. Not wanting to take up a shelter bed that an actual homeless person could use, he sleeps in a van. Meredith Moss of the Dayton Daily News says,
The clergyman is hoping to bring awareness to the issue of homelessness this month by sleeping and living in his van on the streets of Dayton instead of in his comfortable Miamisburg home.
It’s not a total simulation of homelessness. Riddell has been visiting home twice a week to see his wife and kids, and he has a credit card ready for when someone needs help. His website offers video documentation of such events as a visit to a homeless man who lives in a hut in the woods, and reports such surreal experiences as running into a woman he had sold a house to, who didn’t recognize him.
The goal of Riddell’s month-long excursion into homelessness is to raise awareness, and it’s working. Along with the website, he has a Facebook page and a Twitter account, and the larger media have obliged by covering the story in newspapers and on television.
From Denver, Electa Draper describes the St. Francis Center, a co-ed daytime shelter open from 6:30 in the morning till 6 in the evening on weekdays and weekends. This mission of the Episcopal church has been in existence for nearly 30 years. On an average day, over 600 people experiencing homelessness will drop in to take a shower, pick up mail, make phone calls, or do laundry. No alchohol or other substances are allowed, nor is anyone admitted in an intoxicated condition. Best of all, a staff of 37 helps with job counseling and housing placement. The outreach program finds lost people on the street and brings them in. Draper says,
For the newly and first-time homeless — which the center is seeing more and more all the time — St. Francis is a great orientation in how to navigate a complex system of human services scattered throughout the Denver area.
Don’t forget to learn from Looking Up at the Bottom Line, how the Universal Living Wage could help millions of Americans be self-sufficient, taking a great many burdens from the shoulders of volunteers and taxpayers, and, of course, from the very overburdened shoulders of the working poor.