The Pope made headlines earlier this week when he skipped a meeting with politicians in D.C. to dine with people experiencing homelessness instead. It was a powerful gesture rendered somewhat ironic by the fact that, as of 2014, at least 31 cities in the U.S. have taken "strides to restrict or ban the act of food-sharing." A number of municipalities have even gone so far as to fine or jail people for distributing food to these individuals.
This map from an in-depth 2014 report by the National Coalition for the Homeless reveals the 71 cities nationwide that have or have attempted to restrict feeding the homeless over time (the aforementioned 31 figure comes from the report's examination of cities solely from 2013-2014):
As Mic reported in 2014, "The bans are officially instituted to prevent government-run anti-homelessness programs from being diluted. But in practice, many of the same places that are banning food-sharing are the same ones that have criminalized homelessness with harsh and punitive measures. Essentially, they're designed to make being homeless within city limits so unpleasant that the downtrodden have no choice but to leave."
According to National Coalition for the Homeless's report, these "harsh and punitive measures" often include fines, arrests and jail sentences for sleeping, sitting or storing personal belongings in public spaces.
Criminalization of homelessness has gotten so bad in the U.S. that the U.N. dedicated a full section of a 2014 human rights report to the issue, writing that it "raises concerns of discrimination and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment." The National Alliance to End Homelessness reports that there are "around 578,424 people experiencing homelessness on any given night" in the U.S., and "about 9% of homeless people -- 49,933 -- are veterans."
"Homeless people are visible in downtown America," Michael Stoops, the director of community organizing for the National Coalition for the Homeless, said in an interview with NBC on the subject. "And cities think by cutting off the food source it will make the homeless go away. It doesn't, of course."