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Nonprofit banned from park after hosting free picnics to feed people in need: 'It criminalizes the Samaritan for giving'

"We can make a positive impact on food security, even during challenging economic times."

"We can make a positive impact on food security, even during challenging economic times."

Photo Credit: iStock

Organizations that feed people who are homeless are being criminalized for trying to ease food insecurity.

The nationwide trend reached Tempe, Arizona, and AZ Hugs recently, Forbes reported. The nonprofit had for three years hosted weekly picnics to provide meals and connect homeless people with services.

Organizer Austin Davis had received permitting warnings from the city for more than a year before applying for a special-events permit in November. The city denied the request, "blaming the repeated violations, complaints from neighbors and what they said was an uptick of trash and drug paraphernalia in Papago Park, the picnics' usual location," according to Forbes.

Davis told the Arizona Republic that drugs had never been a problem and that officials were eager to hide the unhoused population after razing a homeless camp.

Similar situations have arisen in California, Georgia, and South Carolina. The city of Houston could not convict any of the 90 people it charged with feeding homeless people without permission.

"It criminalizes the Samaritan for giving," said lawyer Paul Kubosh, who represented Houston-based Food Not Bombs volunteer Phillip Picone.

In the United States, food insecurity increased from 10.2% in 2021 to 12.8 percent in 2022, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, meaning 17 million households and 44.2 million people at some point that year could not afford enough food to eat. Families with children, as well as American Indian or Alaska Native, Black, Hispanic, or multiracial people, were at higher risk.

The Equal Justice Initiative reported the issue was directly correlated to the end of the Child Tax Credit — which reduced household food insufficiency by 26% — and other programs borne of the coronavirus pandemic.

"The experience of the pandemic showed us that when government invests in meaningful support for families, we can make a positive impact on food security, even during challenging economic times," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stated. "No child should go hungry in America. The report is a stark reminder of the consequences of shrinking our proven safety net."

The problem has been exacerbated by rising food prices and the climate crisis, which is displacing people, killing crops, and destroying livelihoods, per the World Food Programme. Globally, areas of war and violence are home to 70% of hungry people.

Community refrigerators, the revival of ancestral farming practices, and technological developments such as turning bones into an edible paste that can be incorporated into fish and poultry are some means of helping solve the problem.

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