Three non-profit organizations said they were shocked that Phoenix police shut down an event to give supplies to homeless people on Saturday.
Sgt. Alan Pfohl said Phoenix police officers who were assigned to the area around Central Arizona Shelter Services came across the event and shut it down.
The city of Phoenix encourages organizations to donate to and work with licensed shelters instead of conducting such “street feeding” events.
Jon Linton, founder of The I have a Name Project said he has traveled across the country and has seen policies against people feeding and providing hygiene products to homeless people.
“I honestly never imagined it would happen in Phoenix,” Linton said. “I thought we were a better city.”
‘More harm than good’
Linton said on Facebook that one of the shelters told them police would be called if the event were to happen, police would be called.
However, Tom Doyle, executive director at Andre House of Phoenix, said that no one from his staff threatened to call the police.
He said there has been substantial effort from the city and county to educate the community about street feeding and passing out goods during the holidays.
“My personal position, and Andre House’s position, is that people who are coming to feed and generously provide goods during Christmas have their hearts in the right place but their generosity can produce more harm than the intended good,” Doyle said.
The Andre House referred The Arizona Republic to a news release sent by the Maricopa County Environmental Services Department last week.
“While providing them some food may grant them temporary comfort, this is short-term assistance and it may steer them away from resources that can provide more sustainable help,” spokesman Johnny Diloné wrote.
In a county video included with the news release, Robert Plattner of St. Vincent de Paul said that his non-profit once prepared 800 meals one day but only served about 388.
“We had a bunch of street feeders out on the streets, different areas around the campus,” he said. “Out on Ninth Avenue and Jackson alone, there was probably 250 people serving guests out on the street. That’s not what we need.”
Linton said shelters do not completely provide for the homeless. He said resources are in short supply and people won’t approach a truck handing out food if they aren’t hungry.
He said asking outside organizations who are not licensed shelters to stop providing assistance is not the answer.
“Serving those in need is a complicated issue,” Linton said. “If that were the answer, we wouldn’t have this problem. We donate to those organizations. We’ve delivered water. We’ve delivered clothes.”
He said the solution is more housing, more wrap-around services and an expansion of food, beds and resources. The city shouldn’t ask citizens to only donate their time to those organizations and not the streets.
“I don’t think you can stop people,” Linton said. “You can go down there on any given Saturday or Sunday and see people doing what we were doing on Saturday.”
Trash left behind is a problem
Linton said they were told events such as Warm the Streets of Phoenix lead to trash in the area.
“Frankly, there aren’t enough trash receptacles there to handle the amount of debris … that’s left behind,” Linton said.
Doyle said the groups in Saturday’s event parked in front of the entrance of the parking lot to pass out blankets. Volunteers and guests couldn’t get into the lot, and a staff member politely asked them, he said.
For the past month, between 100 to 300 people have been sleeping on Jackson Street and 11th Avenue every night, Doyle said.
Andre House has bathrooms open to anyone between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. every day except Friday. But there are no public sinks or restrooms available to people sleeping on the streets.
“If you come and walk the areas of 11th and Jackson, your eyes will burn from the urine and feces,” Doyle said. “None of the ground is safe.”
He said this time of year is challenging because more than 1,000 people come to the area to hand out goods. But the people receiving those items don’t have storage for it, he said.
“After Christmas last year, the city had to bring front-end loaders to clean up the streets of blankets, clothes and litter,” Doyle said. “So much comes at once but, unfortunately, most of it is left behind and thrown away within 24 hours.”
Keri Frazier, the owner of Left Coast Burrito Co., said the idea that police shut down their because of trash is ridiculous. She said volunteers are given trash bags to collect waste in the area before the food truck operates or hygiene items are handed out.
“We also spend two hours after the event cleaning up the area,” she said. “We believe that we should leave the area nicer than we found it.”
Sheila Harris, Human Services Campus executive director, said in a video produced by the county that the garbage left over from street-feeding events is a disservice to the broader community.
“Trash gets into local neighborhoods,” she said. “You have to work with the city of Phoenix and their sanitation department and come down and do extra cleanups.”
She added that HSC has to pay for additional dumpsters to take care of all the waste.
Let’s Be Better Humans and Left Coast Burrito Co. said they will clean the area near Central Arizona Shelter Services on Saturday.
What happened to the supplies and food?
The bus, food truck and the volunteers moved to Ninth Avenue and Jackson Street in hopes of avoiding law enforcement. Police eventually arrived and told them to pack up everything and leave, Frazier said.
She said it was upsetting, saying the groups were not there to just hand out burritos and drive away feeling better about themselves. Volunteers learn the names of the people living on the streets, listen to them and offer compassion through conversation, she said.
“The food for us is just a vessel to interact with the people,” she said. “Not everyone feels safe to go into a shelter or the Human Services Campus.”
Linton said as Phoenix police officers were talking to Frazier about shutting down the food operation, he drove a couple blocks away and handed everything out.
“I know very well that what we are doing on the streets isn’t going to solve the issue,” Linton said. “It’s but a Band-Aid. But I can see people are bleeding out there, and they need Band-Aids.”
Frazier said 75 gallons of soup were prepared, but only 15 gallons in 12-ounce servings were able to be distributed. The rest was given to St. Vincent de Paul.
Frazier said that people usually cheer and smile when they see her food truck, but it wasn’t the same when they pulled up to the curb on Saturday. It was the first time she had been at an event that was shut down by law enforcement, she said.
“They all have their reasons for being on the streets,” Frazier said. “We want to respect that. We just want to be there for them and see them as human beings and not as a number or a person to get through the line and feed.”
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