AJC editor Kevin Riley explores the complex issue of church groups feeding the homeless in Downtown Atlanta and whether it helps the homeless or makes matter worse. (Video by David Tulis, Edit by Ryon Horne)
As one of the men interviewed said, if you’re working (yet still homeless), it’s sometimes impossible to make it to a place where meals are being served and get to a shelter in time to get a bed for the night. Day labor and other low-wage work doesn’t tend to be 9-to-5, and then there’s the problem of getting from shelter to work to a meal, then back to a shelter on transit that might leave you waiting 20 to 45 minutes at night.
Almost no one could find fault with people doing the work of helping others get what might be their only meal of the day. Yet there remains the seldom-mentioned plague of discarded food and the pests it attracts. By “discarded” I don’t mean “thrown in the trash,” I mean just dropped on the ground, or thrown behind and under things.
Pretty much like clockwork, there are at least half a dozen slices of bread thrown on the sidewalk in front of the building next to mine a couple of times a week. It’s probably someone’s effort at feeding the already chubby pigeons with bread given to him/her at the Peachtree and Pine shelter two blocks away. Other times it’s entire sandwiches left on the ground around the neighborhood, or half-full Styrofoam containers of food tossed under bushes. The spaces behind the folk art installations at Courtland and Ralph McGill are constantly being used as a combination landfill and public toilet.
The people bringing meals aren’t to blame for any of that, nor is the City of Atlanta. There’s a trash can on at least one end of nearly every block in the area and they’re emptied regularly. It’s the food that’s dropped on the sidewalk and in parks that attracts the XXL roaches and their comrades, the husky, sauntering, tree-climbing rats.
Living in the city means sharing space with people who are in very different circumstances from yours and with whom you don’t have much in common. But it doesn’t cost anything at all to treat the shared space with care and respect, so it’s not too much to expect that even people who have no money would do that.