Baylen Linnekin of the Keep Food Legal Foundation has inveighed against attempts to ban food-sharing in Orlando, Philadelphia, Chicago, Seattle, and Birmingham.
Although I find actual laws sanctioning this behavior as morally outrageous as anyone, I also understand the impulse for them in some jurisdictions. As a resident of a neighborhood with a lot of homeless people—Venice Beach, California—I can report that living near where the homeless are served can be trying. The bulk of people I've encountered living on the street are sympathetic and unfairly maligned. Many have been failed by society, among them veterans who aren't getting the medical attention to which they are entitled, mentally ill people who ought to have a bed and caregivers on hand, and folks who'd love a job but can't get one. But the presence of homeless people also means, at least in my neighborhood, the discovery of human waste in your back alley several times a month, petty drug dealers who scare parents with young kids away from the local playground, meth addicts who aggressively yell obscenities at women on the street, and people off their meds shouting violent threats or bigoted slurs at 3 a.m. I could move, of course. But I wouldn't condemn the resident of a hypothetical neighborhood from trying to force a food-sharing operation elsewhere if they couldn't move, felt their kids were threatened by a nightly or weekly influx of homeless people, and felt that they had no other option to protect them.
I would condemn government officials who used coercion to solve the problem. On a practical level, a city that takes sufficient measures to care for the destitute is one where the problem does not manifest with intensity in anyone's backyard. The complaints of residents ought to spur efforts to better address the needs of the neediest, not crackdowns against the moral heroes trying to make up for collective failures—especially since such people are almost always willing to voluntarily move from one location to another so long as the latter is as good or better for the poor.
And as a matter of political philosophy, those giving food to the poor cannot be stopped from doing so under any system that adequately respects the rights of individuals. Outlawing interpersonal charity is unjust, even if conservative NIMBYs and progressives comfortable with technocratic coercion ally to bring it about. Legally speaking, the Constitution affords a right to free association and assembly. Who will claim that it protects Neo-Nazis marching through Jewish neighborhoods but not a non-profit food-truck doling out hot meals to the destitute? There is a religious freedom defense, too—and it brings us back to Joan Cheever of San Antonio, who maintains, quite plausibly, that feeding the poor is a core part of how she practices her religion. As the Washington Post reported in its coverage:
... she’s considering filing a lawsuit against San Antonio on the ground that her religious freedom was violated, potentially setting religious freedom and local laws on another collision course. “I shouldn’t be the one on the hot seat here,” she said. “This is about every church group or individual who wants to serve a meal. It’s terrible to criminalize the poor, but it’s just as bad to say to the good Samaritans that you’re a criminal too. The Bible says, ‘When I was hungry, you fed me,’ and I take that seriously. This is the way I pray, and we’ll go to court on this.”
Traditionalist Christians should join libertarians in rallying behind her.