Hurry, Hide the Homeless and Hungry

November 18, 2014

More cities want their homeless and hungry invisible. Here’s what supermarkets can do to help.

Sunny Fort Lauderdale – a destination for snowbirds and spring breakers – has the climate for homeless, hungry people to be visible all year round.

The beach town also shares the temperament of 70 other U.S. cities, which “passed or tried to pass ordinances that criminalize feeding the homeless” in public, according to a Mother Jones report, in which Michael Stoops, director of community organization at the National Coalition for the Homeless, says the number of municipalities trying to pass such restrictions is rising.

As a result, a 90-year-old Fort Lauderdale man now faces charges, after police stopped him twice this month from feeding the homeless in local parks. The Lempert Report - which has written about organized hunger programs such as Feeding America that include trade support – sees this ‘make the homeless invisible’ trend and urges more compassion for people in need. There are plenty:  the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty estimated pre-recession that 3.5 million Americans – one-third of them children – experience homelessness each year.

Between job loss, job replacement at lower wages, housing foreclosures, rent hikes, SNAP cutbacks and other causes of temporary distress – all of which happened in droves the past few years - these figures could be conservative today.

While we think supermarkets and CPG are generous when they donate to food banks and other organized efforts, and encourage shoppers to do the same, we wonder, ‘Is our industry doing enough?’ Dire circumstances force people into homelessness – usually for a span of a couple of months. Published accounts show that personal finance expert Suze Orman, Mad Money host Jim Cramer, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, actress Halle Berry, singers Kelly Clarkson and Shania Twain, and actors Jim Carrey and Sylvester Stallone are among dozens of celebrities that have periods of homelessness in common. Had they not made their way or been helped, many of our lives today would be less full.

Here’s how the retail food sector could do better:

  • Personalize stories of the homeless, in brief capsules in a high-traffic part of the store to elicit consumer donations – much like the Christmastime stories daily newspapers used to run about families that hit hard times. Include work skills in these capsules, in case any readers might be able to hire them.
  • Train and employ them.  Help the homeless become self-sustaining again – and bring stores that experience triple-digit staff churn a larger core of appreciative employees. This isn’t purely altruistic.  Evaluate these candidates like anyone else, and hire the best, as from any pool.


So, really, we mean the opposite of our story headline.  Many shoppers realize, we believe, that medical bills, domestic abuse, a shuttered employer or other tough circumstance could toss them onto the other side of this ledger.  They’ll appreciate stores that do what they can to help uplift some of the most unfortunate in their communities.