Friday, November 21, 2008

What Do The Homeless Deserve?


I am sure that the person who came up with this little campaign probably thought that it was a great idea.  Just look at the bonuses, you are not wasting food and a homeless person will not have to dig through the garbage to find food that you carelessly threw away because of your economic/class privilege.

On the face of this so many would think that this is wonderful.  What this is, is class condescension. Sure, just leave your left overs on top of foul smelling garbage for the homeless to eat.  They should be grateful right?  Look at the wealth you are leaving behind.

If you want to help the homeless, and the hungry, take home your damn left overs and eat them yourself.  Just because someone is poor does not mean that leaving your cast offs like this is an act of generosity.

If you really want to help, you'll give them change instead of walking by them like you don't see them.  You will donate to food banks, and I am not talking about the dusty cans at the back of your cupboard, or the weeble filled pasta and rice that you never got around to eating.  How about donating a couple of hours a week at a local food bank, or soup kitchen?

No...just leave them your garbage because they are cast off human beings who should be grateful to eat your leftovers. 

There is this idea that somehow if you live on the streets that you are less than or that food is your main concern, never do we stop and think about the human dignity that we deny them.  Never do we stop and think about the medical treatment that they are not receiving.

A large percentage of homeless are living on the street because they have a mental disability.  We hospitalize, treat and release only to repeat this cycle over and over again.  Hospitals are worried about their bottom line and cannot afford to house the indigent.  On more than one occasion a homeless person has just been dumped as though they were refuse.

There are restaurants that won't let you use the bathroom unless you make a purchase.  Think about it ...every single human being needs to use the facilities and so why not attach a price tag on taking a shit.  Profit whenever possible and screw the indigent who have few options. 

I don't have the answer to the homelessness problem, but I do have enough of a sense of humanity to realize that giving them my half eaten food is not an act of generosity.  Only a self involved, narcissist  would think that this is activism. God forbid we engage with people as though they are our equals.


jgoreham said...

What a ridiculous campaign. Sort of like Elaine donating her 'muffin stumps' to the soup kitchen, only not as funny :/

Last month, I saw some kids offer to buy a guy panhandling outside the Tim Horton's a coffee and something to eat.

Feminist Review said...

I completely agree with your class analysis. People shouldn't order more food than they're able to eat, and people shouldn't condescend to the homeless or oversimplify the reasons for homelessness in America. I also feel conflicted about telling people NOT to do what the ad suggests for several reasons. There are a lot of dumpster diving gutter punks and freegans for whom this makes a lot of sense. Environmentally it makes a lot of sense as well. If one is already going to throw away their food, it's better to leave it in a place where someone who may choose to eat it can access it easily (the ad states to put it on top of the trash can, not in it) and so that it won't be mixed in with toxic things that may harm the person who will eat it. The reality is that people eat food that has been thrown into a garbage can, and while there are most definitely other actions that should be taken to fight poverty and homelessness, ones that will have a more macro-level effect and ones that are more reflexive of people's humanity, I don't see why we shouldn't also try to encourage people who DO plan to throw perfectly eatable food into a public trash can is as untainted as possible. It's a harm reduction strategy.

nia said...
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Shawna said...

I need advice.

I live downtown, on a bus lane. I live there because I chose to, and there are many who live in section 8 housing who don't. We are middle class whites who can afford the condo in this 'hip' urban district.

One issue I don't know what to do about is the people peeing in our alley. There is no public restroom on the whole street. Plenty of resturants who turn away people waiting for the bus. These people then have to pee outdoors, and usually into my garage. My husband used to get very angry, until he saw a man leading his seven-year old into the alley to relieve himself.

I leave out water for them in the summer and blankets in the winter. I always give change and food. I used to get up Saturday mornings and hand out food before the city discouraged it.

I have asked store owners why they don't let people use their restrooms. They say people on buses are more likely to throw up, shoot up, or even have sex in the restrooms, they say. But I know, as a white woman trying to get in a restroom in a desperate situation no one ever refuses me a bathroom, even if it isn't listed as public.

What can I do? Our condo association has taken the steps of putting out kitty litter so that the urine doesn't get in our garage and stink it up. These are people, not animals. I have a full time job and two kids, and I do care. said...

Now, when I lived in Monterey w/ just my daughter I used to see the same homeless man on my way to and from work every day. Since it was just the two of us, when I would cook for her and I, I always had leftover food. I would plate the extra food up and take it to him twice a day. I don't know if you consider this the same thing, but that man was so incredibly grateful for a hot meal twice a day. I had extra food simply by cooking on my meager income (a single mom in the military at my pay grade was barely getting by on Monterey's economy when you figured in day care, etc), and it felt like the right thing to do. It wasn't enough food to make another meal for both of us, but it was enough to feed him. Maybe it was an example of classist privilege, but to me it was the best I could do. If it made me a privileged ass hole, then I guess I am. I wasn't leaving it on the garbage, I gave it to him hot on a plate w/ utensils. I still do it today. If I get my kid a quick breakfast somewhere, I sometimes pick up an extra for the guy that I know is always on that corner by the Jamba Juice, and he always gets a little teary. Think what you want, but they always seem very grateful. I am trying to do a good thing. I don't always have means to do so, and I do what I can when I can.

SarahMC said...

Randombabble, I don't think Renee would classify what you do as classist or assholish. It sounds like you had a connection with that man, and what you did for him was warm, with a personal touch
I think she's just criticizing the aloof, self-congratulatory tone of this particular campaign. But correct me if I'm wrong, Renee.

Renee said...


There is a difference between what you did, and leaving food on a garbage container for people and congratulating yourself for an act of activism. The kind of behavior you describe is exactly what I advocate in terms of treating someone like a human being and micro activism.

I myself have done similar things, when the opportunity has arisen. You did not give that man half eaten food left on a foul disgusting garbage and you had a relationship with him on a real human level. This is the kind of thing we should all be striving to do as much as possible.

Good for you, you should be proud. So many would have walked by him and pretended that he didn't exist and instead you formed a connection.

Anonymous said...

I don't see a problem with leaving usable food out on top of a garbage can. I've lived in apartments for many years, and leaving usable items next to the dumpster, instead of in it, is standard procedure. I do see a problem with calling it activism and assuming it's a good deed done.

I am currently helping a homeless couple near me....they're sleeping in the woods, and she's 6 months pregnant. I do what I can for them and have recruited friends to pitch in, too.

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BlackWomenBlowTheTrumpet said...

Hey there Renee,

Thank you for drawing attention to this.

I was ministering for years in the homeless community and saw so many types of class condescension by Christians who THOUGHT they were being compassionate... {shaking my head}...I won't even give examples of some of the behavior but it lines right up there with leaving half-eaten food on top of a filthy trash can.

Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!

Nia said...

An interesting blog post about the surprising needs of homeless people. Things like peace, quiet, and religion.

(it's not about evangelising them)

Daisy said...

What Feminist Review said... I've known lots of hippies in my time, who ate out of the trash, and it's nice to just keep it as untainted as possible.

But making a big morally-superior deal out of that, as if you are such a WONDERFUL PERSON for doing it, is a bit much.

Ojibway Migisi Bineshii said...

"You gotta have a dollar just to get something to eat." - Zion I

Why do we have to have a dollar? Capitalism, yes indeed, we all know that answer.

I always have given my leftovers to homeless folks and will continue to do so. Its a luxury and privilege to be able to go out to eat in the first place. Homelessness is very near and dear to me. Without family, friends or relatives that love me I could be a Master's educated womyn on the streets right now if it was not for them.

leafgreen said...

The part that burns, for me, is "you may already be an activist". Sure, leave your leftovers on top of the garbage bin instead of inside. That makes you a marginally thoughtful person, not a ruddy activist.

Thank you, Nia, for that link. It is beautiful.

flawedplan said...

I was perplexed by the "activist" characterization myself til I imagined how it plays out. People notice you doing that, and you tell them it's so a homeless person doesn't have to dig through the trash.

Homeless persons? Oh, my.

It's a small public performance that raises consciousness, and that makes it political.

fan said...

"There are restaurants that won't let you use the bathroom unless you make a purchase. Think about it ...every single human being needs to use the facilities and so why not attach a price tag on taking a shit. Profit whenever possible and screw the indigent who have few options. "

This is usually in small businesses to prevent overuse of the bathrooms. I don't think I have ever seen a McDonalds have a sign that said that. And usually it is people who are not customers who do damage in the bathrooms so they try and stop that a little bit (as in kids).