Sun, Jul

Should We Kill the Poor or Eat the Poor?


THE BOSTICK REPORT-As soon as I heard that the Los Angeles City Council was considering a citywide moratorium on feeding the homeless in public, Jello Biafra’s song “Kill the Poor” echoed in my head: The sun beams down on a brand new day … No more welfare tax to pay …  Unsightly slums gone up in flashing light … Jobless millions whisked away …At last we have more room to play …  All systems go to kill the poor tonight. 


And then Biafra goes into the refrain, repeating “kill, kill, kill the poor”. Perhaps the Dead Kennedys satirical reaction to Reagan’s heartless ‘welfare reform’ is not your cup of tea. Perhaps you prefer the tongue in cheek style of Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” whereupon the burden of paying for Ireland’s poor is reframed as an untapped edible resource once you get past the moral objection of eating impoverished children. 

Either way, killing the poor or eating the poor is definitely more absurd a proposition as the one being considered by our city council, but they’re all in the same vein of heartless, short-sighted solutions focused only on the most superficial part of the problem: the ugly mess in front of our faces. 

A public feeding ban does nothing to solve the problem of homelessness. It only further criminalizes a human tragedy, pushing desperate people out of the public view and into the recesses of our community where they will either be victimized or left to suffer out the rest of their painfully isolated lives out of sight, yet still a burden on our public safety and health networks. 

I’ve heard the rationale for this ban is that “we can do better than feeding people off the back of a truck”. Does that mean that the city is going to pay for the space for all the indoor feeding programs to replace the ones affected by the ban? 

There’s a reason the charities handing out free food to the homeless do it off the back of the proverbial truck. They don’t have the money to lease a space where you could go in, sit down, and get a free meal. Beyond that practicality, they actually reach more people when they get out into the field and seek people out. 

But, it is the climate and size of Los Angeles that renders a citywide ban on public feeding impractical and unworkable. Ours is too attractive a city for homeless people to think that we can simply outlaw public feedings to make the ‘undesirables’ magically go away. There are no greener pastures than ours and the only reason smaller cities near us have had success with these bans is that LA was next door to pick up the tab, so to speak. 

There is no doubt that open feeding programs for the homeless need more oversight. First and foremost, there should be an effort by our city government to illustrate exactly where these programs fit into a larger solution on homelessness and how they can eventually foster recovery for the homeless. Beyond that, our elected leaders need to provide the stewardship necessary to coordinate the many independent agency efforts towards a holistic end goal no less than ending homelessness, not just ending the appearance of homelessness. And the steps toward that goal should be tangible and measurable. 

This is more than a simplistic kick the can down the road “solution” of a feeding ban. It requires the sustained, coordinated efforts of a world-class city capable of pursuing goals that are farther away than the next election cycle. Anything less is a callous, politically motivated effort to either win support or stave off the loss of support and in that case, we might as well take the advice of the Dead Kennedys or Jonathan Swift.


(Odysseus Bostick is a Los Angeles teacher and former candidate for Los Angeles Councilman. He writes The Bostick Report for CityWatch.)




Vol 11 Issue 97

Pub: Dec 3, 2013



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