Sarah Blake LaRose (3kitties) wrote,
Sarah Blake LaRose

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feeding the homeless

orpheus42 posted an article about an ordinance against feeding homeless people in Orlando. The whole thing bothers me on a number of levels. But one quote jumped out at me.

Ultimately, "it's a balancing act," says Brie Turek, Dyer's spokesperson. "We need to balance the needs of our citizens and our businesses with the needs of the homeless."

So homeless people aren't citizens?

In short, while there are a number of homeless people who turn to drug dealing to earn their money, I think that we need to look beyond our personal distaste for the act of drug dealing and use and see what lies beneath it: a person who is in pain and choosing what they see as the most lucrative option. We need to find people who have overcome these lifestyles who can serve as mentors and help them tell their stories; and most of all, instead of scorning homeless people, we need to learn how to hold them accountable and help them recover. If they choose to go back to being homeless and engaging in unhealthy lifestyles, then we treat them as prodigals. Writing them off as filthy people who are no good to society should never be our way.

Last semester, I spent a couple of hours helping hand out meals at a food bank here in town. It was quite an interesting experience, although at the time I was very frustrated by it. Behind the cut is a bit from my reflection paper. I hope it illustrates my point: food banks can't do all the work, and they're often impersonal and shame-producing. Part of the power of feeding a homeless person as an individual is the ability to build a relationship and perhaps encourage the person in some way.

This probably says as much about my experience as a blind person as it says about the food bank operation. I hope it's interesting.

While I spent most of this time working with other volunteers to hand out emergency supplies of food, I interacted more with the volunteers than with the people who came in.
There was very little interaction with people who came in. I got the impression that at least one of the volunteers was quite uncomfortable with them. It's hard to explain what gave me this impression except to say that an odd feeling came over me when I responded to people who were talkative and she did not. Her interactions consisted of, "Sign right here... Do you need a winter coat?" Often she commented after someone left, "She's been here before. She didn't look lost." I wondered if there was a limit on the number of times a person could come in for emergency supplies or if the comment was a judgment on the fact that the person was still coming in for food and hadn't resolved the situation yet. I wondered if she would have believed me if I told her that I live at a similar income level to many of these people and it's sometimes a lot harder to resolve the situation than it might seem. Some of the clients were elderly, and one commented that a household member had recently had a colostomy. How is a person in their 70s supposed to resolve their poverty and stop being a repeated "customer?"
A good deal of my energy was spent educating the staff and volunteers about my ability to participate in the distribution activity. It was largely unsuccessful in my opinion. In order to participate fully, the system would need to be completely reworked so that I was forced to interact vocally with people coming in and could access information that had already been taken down about their families. From what I was able to piece together, one volunteer greets them at the door and takes down their information in writing. They then proceed in to where the food is being distributed, pick up their allotted amount, and sign that they've been there.

At the beginning of the afternoon, the elderly volunteer brought in a piece of paper with reminders of the allotment amounts based on family size written on it. Without telling me what was on the paper, she asked if I could read it, and I said no. She said, "Well, how are you going to remember who gets what?" I answered that we would need to come up with another strategy. She became very agitated and said, "I'll have to talk to D!" and ran from the room. When she came back, she asked if I could tell a brown box from a white box. I again suggested finding an alternative solution. She realized at this point that the boxes were different sizes, and I suggested that we put them on opposite sides of the table.

She left again, and eventually the other volunteer came in, a young girl. She said that she thought that it might be good if I wasn't alone "because we have some greedy people here." I had to work hard to figure out what she was talking about. I finally asked about the piece of paper, which she read to me. No one had bothered to explain to me now the "system" worked; so I had assumed that it was all based on vocal interactions.

We ran out of boxes quickly, and the young girl said that she would go downstairs to get more. I offered to go with her since I was not doing much interacting with people who were coming in. She questioned at first whether I could do this; but after a couple of assurances I went down with her and we each came back carrying a box. The secretary saw me carrying a box and began exclaiming, "I can't believe you did that! You need to sit down and catch your breath!" By this time, all of the previous boxes had been used up. The secretary tried to stop the elderly volunteer from going down to get another box; and I thought, "Well, you don't want the blind girl straining her heart! Who's going to get the boxes?"

The young girl seemed to catch on fairly quickly, and by the end of the day we were carrying multiple boxes up and making jokes about balancing them on our head in order to keep enough boxes running to feed the people. In the end, we ran completely out of boxes and had to discuss what to do in order to supply the need in case more people came. The obvious solution seemed to be to dip into the food allotted for weekly stock-ups.

I think that the elderly ladies just had a very hard time with the concept of me doing this kind of thing. To them, I am someone to care for and minister to, or someone to admire because I can perform basic daily tasks in spite of blindness.

Dealing with these aspects of ministry is very taxing emotionally for me. When I find a place where I can chip in and contribute freely, I find that I can go all day and not get tired; but when I must spend the day educating and struggling against these stereotypical views, I become tired before a quarter of the day is up.

I'll have more thoughts about this in time... I need to get some laundry going but wanted to post this as a starter.

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