Debunking the Myth: Do Homeless People Eat Too Much?

Really? Do some people really believe that homeless people have too much food to eat? Actually, yes. And they provide what they consider the evidence,

“Of course they have too much food to eat. See how fat they are!”

This myth leaves me stunned, because I believe its falsehood is obvious. I’ve had the privilege to work with people in need for over twenty years. Sadly, in all of that time, I have never known a homeless person who was able to eat three healthy meals a day. Really.

As we all know, obesity is an American epidemic. Whether we are housed or homeless, many authorities agree that our diet of high-calorie, unhealthy foods contributes to our obesity. It would appear that many housed people are neither utilizing their kitchens to prepare nutritious foods, nor making healthy food choices at restaurants. Homeless people may have similar nutritional challenges, but for different reasons.

On May 25, 2012, the San Diego County Regional Task Force on the Homeless reported in “A Point-In-Time Assessment of Homelessness In San Diego County – 2012,” that there are a total of 9,641 homeless people within the county. Of this total, 4,374 homeless people are sheltered and often receive their meals from their residential facilities. However, there are at least 5,267 homeless people who are unsheltered and generally live without their own cooking facilities.

Unsheltered homeless people generally eat prepared food that they get from Good Samaritans, at group food service opportunities and, when they have money, from fast food restaurants and/or grocery stores. Pasta, bread and pastries are in abundance. Organic foods as well as raw fruits and vegetables are seldom available. Without healthful foods to eat, homeless people have very few chances of avoiding obesity.

I’m grateful to the following homeless people and service provider for sharing whether they feel that homeless people have too much food to eat.

Annie, an unsheltered homeless person, 45 years old: “I don’t think that homelesspeople have too much food. We need more fresh veggies, not canned. But that’s not easy to get.

“There are a lot of church services, but maybe having food every day would be good. But, we don’t have food every day. We’re blessed to have what we get.”

Jon, 49 years old, lives in his van: “We never have too much food.”

Glyn Franks, a housed person, 62 years old, founder and president of Second Chances, Bread of Life, and self-described “San Diego’s biggest sinner saved by the grace of God:”

“Our goal is to feed the hungry, tend to the sick, visit prisoners and clothe the naked.” We feed the hungry… We fulfill the great commission to share the good news by doing the four things I’ve said to serve the God of love.

“Homeless people don’t have enough food. I believe that homeless people don’t have proper nutrition because they can’t cook. Without cooking facilities, it is difficult to get proper nutrition. Proper nutrition promotes good mental health and the ability to make good decisions.

“I believe that there are also people with roofs that don’t have enough food.

“We serve food to homeless people and housed people Saturday mornings, Thursday at high noon and holidays [in and near Ocean Beach].”

Grace, a vegetarian, almost 53 years old, lives in her van: “Because I have celiac sprue disease, I cannot eat anything that has gluten grains in it – wheat, rye, oats, barley, spelt. And I’m dairy intolerant… Consequently, most of my money goes to food and dietary supplements.

“Although I have a very limited income, I still feel that it is important to give food to others who need it. Because I’m aware of the need for healthy food and because I’m aware of how little healthy food there is ‘out there,’ I cook and prepare my meals. Because it is hard to make food for one person, I prepare a lot of food and share it with people who need food. Many homeless people who come to me are vegetarians or need healthy food. So, they are very happy to have this food.

“Most homeless people are suffering from mal-nutrition because of not eating healthy food… I feel that one of the most important things in life is what we ingest, our food.”

John, an unsheltered homeless person, 50 years old: “For each community, the situation is different. For example, in downtown San Diego, there are limited opportunities to eat indoors. It took me two years to learn where to get food.

Several hundred homeless people are usually served at each of the following meals:

• Mondays

The Lutheran Church serves a meal. Father Joe [St. Vincent de Paul] serves lunch. God’s Extended Hand serves dinner.

• Tuesdays

Father Joe [St. Vincent de Paul] serves lunch. God’s Extended Hand serves dinner. The Salvation Army serves dinner.

• Wednesdays

Father Joe [St. Vincent de Paul] serves lunch. God’s Extended Hand serves dinner.

• Thursdays

Father Joe [St. Vincent de Paul] serves lunch. God’s Extended Hand serves dinner. The Horizon Church serves dinner.

• Fridays

Father Joe [St. Vincent de Paul] serves lunch. The Lutheran Church serves a meal. God’s Extended Hand serves dinner. The Salvation Army serves dinner.

• Saturdays

Father Joe [St. Vincent de Paul] serves lunch.

• Sundays

Father Joe [St. Vincent de Paul] serves brunch. Presbyterian Soup Ladle serves a meal.

“It’s hard to remember all of this. If you don’t know where these meals are, it’s difficult. And just to get to some of these places is an effort without a bus pass. It can take an hour to get to a scheduled meal.

“Sometimes you have to stand in line for hours before a meal, after which there is a religious service for an hour or two and then you get to eat. That means it could take a total of 4 to 5 hours out of your day before you can get a meal indoors.

“I don’t think homeless people are overfed. My opinion is that there is enough food for some of them to survive. Homeless people are more on the hungrier side than the full side. Going to bed hungry is not a nice thing.”

Justin, an unsheltered homeless person, 25 years old: “This morning I woke up and I didn’t know where I was going to eat. I was hungry. I often get hungry. Everyone gets hungry. We, homeless people, are just like everyone else.”

 

I look forward to your comments. Thank you, Christine

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photo by: Ed Yourdon