Phoenix Asks Churches To Stop Street Feeding, Use Better Ways To Help Homeless

Published: Tuesday, September 20, 2016 - 5:40pm
Updated: Wednesday, September 21, 2016 - 9:06am
(Photo by Christina Estes - KJZZ)
This man can often be seen on a downtown Phoenix corner across from city hall holding a cup to collect cash and a sign that reads "Help Food".

“Don’t feed people living on the streets.”

That's the message the city of Phoenix is spreading. Staff said it’s necessary to protect vulnerable people, neighborhoods and businesses.

“It’s usually a hard conversation to have at first because feeding is really something that’s ingrained in communities as a good way to help,” said Riann Balch, deputy director of Phoenix’s Human Services Department.

When faith and community based groups deliver meals to homeless people or organize feeding times, they often hear words of gratitude, but Balchsaid they also need to hear this: “They are prolonging homelessness by giving the person what they need to stay out on the streets.” 

Balch said that puts the person’s health — and life — at risk.

“What we want to do is bring people into services and improve their quality of life,” she said.

Street feeding, as it’s called, can also hurt neighborhoods and businesses because large groups tend to stick waiting for the next meal. 

“Anytime you convene a large group of people things are left behind whether it’s just waste, clothing, etc.,” she said. 

It also creates what Balch calls a "grouping effect" with people congregating in areas where they know food will be delivered.

“It’s difficult sometimes to get into a business if there’s lots of people walking around and you’re not really sure about your safety,” she said. “It’s just not a welcoming environment and that really can be harmful to businesses.”

The Human Services Department created the Street Feeding Collaborative in April to educate faith and community-based groups about the unintended consequences and develop new ways to help end homelessness.

Balch said some groups have partnered with established non-profits like St. Vincent de Paul and Andre House which provide meals at their facilities.

Some people are being trained to support and mentor individuals and families who have recently found housing. With winter and the holiday season approaching, another group is developing a public awareness campaign to share information about more effective ways to help. 

If you would like more information on the city’s community engagement efforts call 602-534-5463.

Phoenix Quarterly Homeless Update (April – June 2016) 

Numbers housed through the regional homes services delivery system:

441 families

579 single, non-veteran individuals

315 veterans

Of those housed, 107 were classified as chronically homeless

Source: Phoenix Human Services Department