How to feed the many homeless who congregate in and around downtown Atlanta has been under spirited discussion of late. Downtown boosters and charitable organizations say a multi-pronged strategy, of which food is only one part, is the best way to comprehensively address the homeless problem. Others say their work driving in to feed homeless people should not be discouraged. We offer both views today.
Food only part of outreach
By Dacia Bray
It’s hard to miss the throngs of homeless people swarming around a minivan or truck getting handout food on any given Saturday in downtown Atlanta. It doesn’t matter if it’s Hurt Park or at a so-called vacant parking lot. You will see it.
It happens during the week as well, but most of those who are bringing the food have the weekend off. So there are more on the weekend.
“Feeders” we call them; those who feel called to the city to end hunger. A noble cause, right? God says to feed the poor. What could possibly be wrong with giving food to the hungry?
So many people like to make this a moral issue. If we don’t feed them, we’re depriving them of basic human needs. But isn’t there a greater moral issue at hand? It’s not about if we need to feed the hungry, it’s about how we feed the hungry.
First, we must all step back and try to see more than a bologna sandwich on white bread. The same way we step back and look at a car that has stopped running. Yes, we can put gas in the tank until it’s full, but if the alternator has gone out, the car won’t start anyway. Getting to the real problem is the only way to find solutions.
As the executive administrator at SafeHouse Outreach in downtown Atlanta, our staff and I work daily with individuals to get to their real problems. It’s a long and sometimes frustrating process. There are a myriad of reasons why someone is homeless. And I’m telling you, it’s not because they don’t have a bologna sandwich.
Do we feed people at SafeHouse Outreach (SHO)? Yes, of course. We enlist corporate groups, churches, and individuals to provide Night Impact Services on our property, partnering with us to bring food and entertainment to about 125 homeless and poor. This is a threshold service that we hope our guests will walk through, learning what services we provide and then come back the next day to begin a Life Action Plan. We give them more than just a plate of food.
At SafeHouse Outreach, we’re opposed to feeders. There is a way to give to the basic need of hunger. We believe it is orderly and given with dignity. We invite as many of these feeders as we can to join forces with us, to bring their food and their people to SHO. But so many won’t partner; so many only want to do their own thing.
A sandwich cannot be an end unto itself. We believe in a hand-up, not just a handout. We recognize critical needs, but our goal is to offer lasting, life-changing solutions. It’s just like that proverb: hand out a fish to a man and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and … .
We should be teaching, not just handing out. To echo Robert Lupton: Who is this sandwich for anyway? The person receiving it — or the person giving it?
Dacia Bray is executive administrator of SafeHouse Outreach in downtown Atlanta.
Homeless need all the help we can give
By Frances Miller
Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, if you peer out of your car window in bustling downtown Atlanta, I am almost positive that you can spot a homeless person, or the person’s belongings.
You might have to look for a second, but they are there — in the bushes, under bridges, or in homeless camps. Their presence has become a growing “issue” in our capital city for quite some time. It appears to have no plans for slowing down anytime soon.
One main aspect that people consider to be an issue when it comes to these souls is that other people come to feed them. All I want to know is, why is that an issue? Maybe due to the fact that the homeless “make us look bad as a city” or that they leave trash once they are finished eating. I might be mistaken, but all humans leave trash once they have eaten.
You see, food lines on Joseph E. Boone Boulevard or in Hurt Park are these people’s restaurants. The street corners and park benches are their homes.
One main reason that people find wrong the reality of churches and organizations crusading downtown to feed the homeless is because of the established groups already there. Many of these refuge places provide food, medical care, classes and more.
Now do not get me wrong ; I am a strong supporter of these organizations. But as I mentioned earlier, we have an estimated 21,000 homeless people in Atlanta. There is simply not enough capacity built yet to take care of every single one.
Even if there was, how should we expect all of the hopeless to be capable of getting there? The homeless are spread all over — from The Bluff to Turner Field. Some are wheelchair-bound, or lack even the few cents it would take to travel on the bus to these locations. Until we have enough facilities built, traveling churches and organizations are their only hope.
Did you know that over 55 percent of the 21,000 homeless people here in the Atlanta limits alone are veterans? We as a city have failed them. They may have risked their life for you and me overseas, and they come back to living in a box. Do you not think they deserve better? They, the people we may belittle, are the reason we are free.
Lord knows I am not asking you to maybe do the things my family and I do, or buy them a house, or anything extraordinary. However, if you do not do these things, you have no place to complain. You are not making a positive difference.
Here is my challenge for some: Do not just sit and read this while thinking of all the negative things that come from the homeless. Stop being selfish, and treat them how you would want to be treated.
As a Christian, feeding them is part of my life. I am God’s hands and feet. As a human, degrading them is something we should never do. These people have names, talents, dreams, and emotions just like you and me.
Feeding them is a way for us to let them know they are loved, which is something they do not receive a lot.
Just remember this world is cold. Most of our homeless never experience a handshake or a hug; all they usually see are harsh looks and hatred.
Spend a year in their shoes, a month, or even a week. And then let me know how it feels.
I love them, and I am proud to say I will fight for them until the end.
Frances Miller, 17, of Jonesboro, volunteers with several local groups that feed the homeless.