Mutual Aid Under Siege: How Laws Against Food Sharing Perpetuate Homelessness

People often experience hunger before they experience homelessness.

Imagine this: a gnawing emptiness in your stomach, a constant companion that drowns out all other thoughts. Now imagine facing this reality every single day, unsure of where your next meal will come from. This isn’t a dystopian nightmare; it’s the harsh reality for tens of millions struggling with food insecurity. And for many, this hunger isn’t just an annoyance, it’s a slippery slope towards homelessness.

Food Insecurity: The First Domino 

Hunger doesn’t exist in isolation. It weakens individuals and families, making them more susceptible to a cascade of problems, including housing instability. By prioritizing food security and building a more just food system, we can break the cycle that pushes people towards homelessness.


Threats to Food Sovereignty

But the fight for food justice goes beyond simply filling empty bellies. Across the U.S., a disturbing trend is taking root. Cities are enacting bans on food sharing, restricting community gardens, and even criminalizing composting. This isn’t just about aesthetics; it’s a systemic attack on food sovereignty – the right of communities to decide how they grow, share, and access healthy food. 

As the Supreme Court appears to move toward criminalizing homelessness in favor of an Oregon city, uncertainty for vulnerable populations is mounting. What’s more, harmful laws and ordinances, like the charitable feeding ordinance, overlap to facilitate homelessness and criminalize individuals for stepping in to fill systemic gaps. But why are those in need being targeted? And why is feeding people demonized?

Mutual Aid: A Lifeline and a Rebellion

Remember the peak of the pandemic? When supermarket shelves were bare, and social safety nets frayed? Well, regular people, like you and I, stepped up to fill the gaps. People helping people through mutual aid networks saved lives. This sharing of resources exposed the cracks in our systems and threatened the idea that there’s never enough to go around.

The pandemic is not the only instance of mutual aid and communal care coming under fire. History echoes this struggle. The Black Panther Party, champions of social justice, understood the interconnectedness of food and justice deeply. Their free breakfast programs were a potent symbol of liberation how you gonna win, when you ain’t right within? They knew nutrition fuels the fight for social justice. The simple act of making sure all were fed was a challenge to the status quo, a threat to the illusion of scarcity.

Mutual aid networks are all around us. This collective action, this revolutionary rejection of lack, threatens the illusion of scarcity that the profit-driven food system thrives on. Fortunately, we know there are other ways forward.

Beyond Scarcity: A Solidarity Economy

Now imagine this: an economy that values not just profitbut life. A solidarity economy prioritizes regeneration and community well-being. Movements like The Movimento Sem Terra (Landless Workers Movement or MST) in Brazil exemplify this shift. MST advocates for land reform, organizes agricultural cooperatives, and prioritizes food security for their communities. Within this model, where valuing life is the cornerstone of existence, everybody thrives.

This way of life is closer than you think. Organizations like the South Bronx Food Hub Collective (SBFHC) are working to ensure that everyone has access to affordable, nutritious food by providing hyper-local, nutritious produce to the most vulnerable populations, addressing food insecurity, hunger, and dietary related illnesses in the community. They are leveraging local food production and land use to address food insecurity in the South Bronx, reducing economic and physical barriers to nutritious food through alternative food production and distribution programs, including a mobile food delivery service. WhyHunger supports partners across the U.S. in securing food sovereignty for all. 

With your help, we supported 21 organizations to train and equip Black farmers in the U.S. to grow food sustainably and resource infrastructure projects that allow them to scale production. We’ve seen tried and true solutions first hand.

Let’s Tackle This From the Root

Hunger is not inevitable. It’s a symptom of a deeper societal issue. When we address food insecurity, we take a critical step towards preventing homelessness and honoring life. 

At WhyHunger, we believe a world without hunger is not just possible, it’s necessary. By accompanying organizations like MST and the South Bronx Food Hub Collective across the U.S. and in 23 countries around the globe, we are supporting a future where everyone has access to the sustenance they need to thrive. Our partners are living proof that a world that centers well-being means we can all thrive. Join us in making this a reality for all.

Interested in advocating against the crack down on homelessness? Click here.

Kristina Erskine