The city of El Cajon has bought into the idea that harassing homeless humans will make the problem go away, and activists around San Diego are pushing back with actions possibly including civil disobedience starting on Sunday, November 19.
The East County city with nearly one in four people living in poverty and a soaring rate of homelessness has passed an emergency ordinance prohibiting food distribution on any city-owned property.
What this means is serving meals to groups of homeless people in parks and other public spaces is now against the law in El Cajon, along with panhandling, sleeping on the sidewalk and setting up encampments.
From the Union Tribune:
The City Council said that the temporary law means church groups feeding homeless persons in El Cajon parks will not be allowed to do so for the foreseeable future.
Because of the hepatitis A epidemic that has weaved its way across the county, El Cajon says it believes that stopping the distribution of food will keep residents safe…
…Mayor Bill Wells said he is “always concerned about over-regulation” but that “people are dying and the city has to protect the public.”
The KPBS story on El Cajon’s ordinance quoted Alessa Williams, who’s has come to rely on church sponsored feedings during her two years of living on the streets:
“There have been days when I feel like it’s saved my life,” she said. “I thank God every day for the people that help…”
“…Homeless people are being singled out,” she said. “It’s kind of like we’re being black sheeped from (the) community.”
Williams was unable to finish her thought. During her interview with KPBS, police rolled up to the sidewalk to ask her and her half-dozen homeless friends to move along.
600 900 people have responded to a call on Facebook urging protests and civil disobedience to “Break the Ban,” at Wells Park, located in the 1100 block of East Madison Avenue, from 2-5pm on Sunday, November 19.
From the organizers’ page:
The city council of El Cajon has voted 5-0 to ban feeding the homeless in El Cajon. It is now against the law. Please join us in an act of defiance to this ban as we feed the homeless in Well’s Park. When a law is immoral, it must be rejected. Please share this event across your networks and invite all of your friends. This ban is a punitive measure under the guise of combatting the Hepatitis A outbreak. Hepatitis A is not spread by feeding the homeless, it is spread when there are no bathrooms or handwashing facilities for these people. Please join us in saying no.
Organizer Mark Lane went on to clarify the objective of the event in light of concerns people expressed about being arrested:
We feel that the ban on feeding the homeless in El Cajon is wrong, morally bankrupt. We have created this event to directly defy the ban and to directly confront and work to have the ban overturned.
In that regard, there may be action taken by the El Cajon Police Department. We do not expect anyone to be arrested or to be ticketed if they are not prepared to. At any point, people are free to leave, everyone has their own comfort level and any level of participation is appreciated and important.
This is also a peaceful action. We would like and are encouraging no violence. We plan to have 2 attorneys present and some legal observers documenting police interactions.
UPDATE, Via Facebook:
…we’ve been approached by many people in regards to wanting to donate money. We’ve set up a fundraiser through The George & Tena Lange Foundation a local homeless advocacy group. They feed homeless people every week all over San Diego. The money raised will go straight into their account and they will administer the money out to the two feeding events to protest the Ban on feeding the homeless in El Cajon. This event and also the November 25th event, El Cajon Food Solidarity Event by San Diego Food Not Bombs.
Any extra funds after these events will stay with The George and Tena Lange Foundation, to help them expand their outreach. So, if you want to donate money to this advocacy, here it is. Please share this across your networks, as we have a great opportunity to make a huge difference in people’s lives!
There is pushback on the concept of feeding homeless humans in public places coming from neighborhoods like Pacific Beach, from citizens who believe church-sponsored events are driving increased crime.
The Union-Tribune quoted Amy Gonyeau, chief operating officer at Alpha Project, at a recent forum at the Balboa Theatre saying people should stop public feedings because “It’s not helping.”
Opponents to standalone meals operations say they believe the actions enable homelessness, rather than encouraging people to seek comprehensive services. Some seventy cities around the country have considered that argument with proposed laws limiting street feedings.
What the UT article and representatives of officially recognized provider groups don’t tell you is that the ‘legal’ capacity to actually feed San Diego’s homeless–61% of whom say they depend on these meals–does not exist.
The claims about public feedings enabling homelessness are disputed by advocacy groups, like the National Coalition for the Homeless, which has published three studies debunking what they call a “myth.”
The Puritan ethic underlying social welfare programs, both public and private, is a major stumbling block. Whether these (I’m sure they’re well-meaning) folks realize it or not, imposing restrictions on assistance due to moral judgments about mental illness, alcohol, or drug abuse simply perpetuates the problems.
At it’s ugliest, the worst manifestation of this “disgust syndrome” comes via the thinly disguised commentary –expressed in letters to the editor and at public forums– dancing around the idea of a “final solution.”
And, finally, there needs to be a recognition by the community at large that problem of lack of shelter is connected to economic and political decisions made at the highest levels. Damn few people would choose to be homeless.
When community leaders looked the other way as thousands of single occupancy rooms were eliminated as part of downtown redevelopment; when business leaders opposed grassroots efforts at increasing the minimum wage even though their employees have difficulty affording housing; when elected officials supported criminalizing poverty, they caused the problem.
We’re past the point of having discussions about warehousing humans, or where they should be fed.
I’m going to use a dirty word to describe what needs to be done: reparations.
Whether it’s simply handing out cash (which has surprising results), hiring the homeless to help clean up the community (as they’ve successfully done in Albuquerque), getting back into the public housing business, or saying yes to facilitating feeding people at publicly owned locations, there are better ways to do what needs to be done.
For now, we’re stuck protesting the stupidity of elected officials who think they can just make people miserable enough to “go away.”
El Cajon is as good a place as any to take a stand.
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