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Downtown Clergy Council recommends alternatives to feeding Skid Row homeless

By Tony Pierce
Published: Thursday, August 30, 2012, at 12:01PM
Tania and Turkey Ed Fuentes

Disney's Tania Gunadi showing a plate of food being served at the LA Mission. Donations included turkey from Morongo Tribe of Mission Indians, pies from Bonerts Slice of Pies and Jesse Lord Pie Company.

The Downtown Clergy Council, an inter-faith group of clergy members from churches, missions, synagogues, and service providers serving in and around the Central City area, known as Skid Row, are advising people not to feed the area homeless.

“What people don’t know about giving food out on the streets is that it not only keeps them from facilities that can help them, it also pollutes the environment in which they are seeking recovery because unwanted food is thrown on the ground and creates a toxic environment in Skid Row,” said Chaplain Tina Babcock, CEO of Restoration and Recovery Resources Group and the former President of the Downtown Clergy Council, in a statement.

The council this month released a position paper that, in part says, "you must understand that when you feed the homeless in the street, you unintentionally rob them of any incentive to seek assistance from the various services in the area."

Four Skid Row missions serve approximately 8,000 meals a day, according to the council, which says that the food goes hand-in-hand with the services homeless people need but often don't get when good-hearted people simply drop off items.

“We want to encourage people to help the homeless in Skid Row and beyond with healthy food and most importantly with services that help elevate them from a state of homelessness to housing, employment and needed supportive relationships,” said Herb Smith, CEO of Los Angeles Mission, in a statement.

In its position paper the council suggests bringing bottled water instead of food to the homeless. It also recommends distributing hygiene kits as an alternative to food.

"Many homeless individuals in Skid Row will stop taking care of themselves physically as their addictions become the center of their lives. Others struggle with mental illness and are shelter resistant. Providing them with baggies containing soap, deodorant, Band-Aids, hand sanitizer, sanitary napkins, shaving products, lotion, and shampoo, has encouraged many individuals to take care of themselves hygienically, and has led them to services. We almost never see these items discarded or sold," the council wrote.

Skid Row activist Jeff Page, aka General Jeff, said that although he does not support ending food giveaways, he would like to see them better regulated so people know who is giving out the meals.

"These are random organizations. There's no identification on their clothing, or their vans or anything," he told the Associated Press. "We need to hold them accountable in case of food poisoning or trash."

The council will have a press conference at the L.A. Mission Friday at 11:30 a.m.

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