As We See It

Food for thought: Should the pizza angel feed the homeless?

Although well-intentioned, food donation efforts often have negative impacts.

The Strip smelled of pizza. A young man was canvassing the sidewalk, handing a hot slice to every homeless person he saw. I should do that, I thought.

Then I wondered if pizza angels are allowed. In 2006, Las Vegas made it “illegal to offer so much as a biscuit to a poor person in a city park,” as the New York Times put it. The ACLU reportedly fought the controversial ordinance all the way to a federal appeals court, and in 2010 the city removed the ban on feeding indigent people in public parks (the Strip was never affected). But the Community Donation Redirection initiative asserts that random citizens doling out snacks can create other problems.

“Although their efforts are well-intentioned, their donations often have negative impacts,” says the CDR primer on the city’s website, pointing to litter, health and safety concerns (i.e. contaminated food, illegal pedestrian traffic), and the view that such charity is a short-term fix for a deeper problem. But it’s hard to ignore someone who looks hungry and is holding a sign blessing you for any kindness. And it’s hard to accept that people choose to panhandle when help is available.

Tyrone Thompson understands. He’s with Help Hope Home, “Southern Nevada’s regional effort to end homelessness.” He says that while outreach teams are on the streets, some homeless individuals don’t take advantage of services offered or don’t know where to find them. Building trust and communication is key, Thompson says, adding that help gets to those who need it most efficiently and safely when donations are coordinated through social-service agencies already partnering to end the homelessness impacting 7,355 Southern Nevadans any given day.

So the message is, pizza angels should try working with established shelters or food banks or Metro’s new Giving Project, which connects donators with those in need. “It takes those professionals and it takes the community. … It’s all of us in this together.”

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