IT'S ONLY MONEY: But if you're homeless & hungry, this Bud wasn't for you

Posted: September 05, 2012

YOU COULDN'T design a better (or more bitter) irony than the release date of a report on public feedings of the hungry on the Parkway - five days before Made in America's gates opened to $10 french fries and $9 chicken fingers.

We're tempted to leave it at that. But the timing and import of both issues is too provocative to go without comment. And the issues do feed each other, so to speak.

We have supported the Nutter administration's ban on feeding the homeless on the Parkway - which a federal judge recently struck down. The administration wants those receiving free food to move inside, for health reasons and to provide more services. These are compelling enough reasons, but, in addition, the Parkway is a civic space - a public park. The "religious freedom" that some organizations and advocates claim is being violated by the ban does not include religious organizations delivering their programs anywhere or any time they choose in a public space.

All that said, today we are tempted to say: Money changes everything. The city's giving over of the Parkway to a for-profit event, and one to which the city has actually contributed an (unknown) amount of money, curdles its position on the feeding program. Shutting down the Parkway for a business venture like Budweiser's Made in America sends more than one bad signal about how we use our civic space. The for-profit concert suggests that people with money have more rights than the public, and, against the backdrop of the feeding ban, suggests that people with no money have no rights at all.

The report that Nutter's task force released on "The Outdoor Serving of Food" provides a good reminder of the extent of the city's needy citizens, and some useful insights into who uses the feeding programs and how often the food providers show up. What is striking is how random and scattershot the Parkway feedings are. Twenty-eight different providers supply different meals on different days; for example, there are 11 meals served on Saturdays, and none on Wednesdays. This alone suggests that it would be far better to routinize these feedings and provide a central place to pull many providers together - especially since many of the food clients polled for the report travel nearly 2 miles, by foot, to the Parkway. The report is a strong reminder of the larger problem that the city must solve: not just the food scarcity experienced by too many, but the city's high poverty rate.

In fact, in light of the problem, the Parkway feeding programs are a tiny part of a huge problem, and we question the amount of time and energy the administration has been forced to spend on this while the larger crisis looms.

In this context, the Made in America festival - which we protest for its lack of transparency and accounting, its for-profit exclusivity in a civic space and the lost opportunity to generate money and attention for the city's poverty problem - rankles even more.

It's as if the city is saying, "Let them eat crab fries."

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