OPINION: Criminalizing compassion
UPDATE: Last week on Feb. 8, KOLD published an article, “Police to enforce ordinance that prohibits feeding homeless in parks.” Based on that article and an announcement by @ParkTpd, I wrote “Tucson Police Department is criminalizing compassion,” which was published Feb. 10.
Two hours after that story’s publication, @ParkTpd posted an update on Twitter, writing, “We recognize that it is not a crime to be homeless and we understand that many homeless individuals struggle with mental health problems and substance use orders.”
On Feb. 12 Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus reached out to clarify the position of TPD. Magnus said no one has been arrested or cited for handing out food in a park, nor was the department planning on doing so in the future. The article has been updated to reflect this.
Tucson Police Park Safety announced a city ordinance that prohibits individuals from providing food to the homeless in public parks.
Their logic is the same as those National Park signs that forbid us from feeding the animals. From the press release: “The distribution of food also generates an increase in our homeless population.” In other words, if you feed them, they might become less afraid of humans, more aggressive and, somehow, increase in number.
Let us pause for a moment, because this cannot be stressed enough. The announcement claims that feeding people is a cause of homelessness. The release continues: “These individuals will continue to stay in these parks and return due to the repeated distribution.”
Yes, that’s right. The reason these people go to parks is not because they have nowhere else to go, because they are, indeed, homeless, but because there is food available. The level of barely concealed contempt for the less fortunate is palpable.
So why do they go to these parks? The answer is glaringly obvious. A culture of austerity — a decades-long refusal to invest in social welfare in Arizona and the United States — has made housing the house-less an unthinkable option. In Finland, for example, they simply built or bought houses. Tucson can do this, too. Don’t let the “pragmatists” convince you otherwise.
Sure, the justifications in the release are sound enough. Litter is a problem, public health another. The announcement goes on to state that there are services for these people. And there are, but these are generally private and/or religious institutions who necessarily rely on unpredictable funding and who are sometimes either at capacity or unwilling to accept intoxicated individuals.
To be clear: The only reason people go to these parks to provide food is because the state has failed. People are simply attempting to fill in a gap caused by austerity, and now that they have, the state intervenes on behalf of bourgeois sensibility against the poorest of the poor.
You can be arrested for being homeless. You can be charged for feeding the homeless. What’s next?
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