Is It Legal … To Feed The Homeless?

By Rachael Mason

Is it legal to feed the homeless?

Depending on where you live and how you’re planning to provide food for the needy, it might indeed be against the law to feed the homeless.

This year, Philadelphia enacted a ban on serving food in city parks, which affects local charities’ efforts to feed the homeless, reported Bloomberg BusinessWeek. “Under additional rules recently adopted by the city’s health department, those who want to feed the hungry on a sidewalk, road, or other public place outdoors must take a food-safety course and obtain a permit from the city,” reported BusinessWeek.

In Dallas, those who want to give food to homeless people must first become “certified food handlers,” reported the Los Angeles Times. The National Coalition for the Homeless maintains a page detailing the laws that affect sharing of food with homeless in cities across the country.

Examples include Atlanta, which has required all food given to the homeless must be facilitated through one of eight approved providers since 2003. In Baltimore, every food service provider—even if the food is given out for free—must be licensed. In Las Vegas, a permit must be obtained for gathering of more than 25 people gather in a city park.

What other laws affect the homeless?

In many cities, it’s illegal to be homeless, according to a report from the NLCHP. Many of the activities performed by homeless people, like sleeping on the street, are against the law.

“Of the 234 cities surveyed, the report shows that: 40 percent prohibit sleeping in public places, 33 percent prohibit sitting/lying in public places, 56 percent prohibit loitering in public places and 53 percent prohibit begging in public places,” the NLCHP said.

Why should I be concerned about the homeless?

The homeless population includes more people than you might imagine. For example, many residents of the areas hit by Hurricane Sandy still don’t have a place to live.

Every year, more than 2 million kids across the country will experience a period of homelessness every year, according to Covenant House. The nonprofit organization helps homeless kids by providing shelter and other basic necessities and works to help get them off the street.

The number of homeless young people in the U.S. continues to increase. Public schools have reported more than 1 million homeless students are enrolled, according to a June 2012 report released by the U.S. Department of Education.

When it comes down to it, helping the homeless is more cost-effective than sending them to jail. Cost studies in 13 cities and states reveal that, on average, cities spend $87 per day to jail a person, compared to $28 per day for shelter,” according to the NLCHP.

What can I do to help the homeless?

Instead of organizing your own efforts to feed the homeless, consider donating time, money or goods to established nonprofit groups in your area. You might work at a soup kitchen, collect canned goods for a local food bank or donate to an organization that hosts holiday meals for the needy. Rather than buying gifts this season, perhaps you’ll make a donation in the names of your loved ones.

Like executives did recently in Washington, D.C., you might even sleep outside for a night as part of a movement designed to raise awareness of homeless. In Nov. 2012, the group in D.C. spent the night outside Covenant House Washington. Through pledges from family and friends, raised more than $60,000 for the organization, reported the Washington Post.

To find out more about the issue of homeless, visit the National Alliance to End Homelessness’ website at




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