by Brittany Wortham
On a cold, hazy morning, a handful of activists convened in front of the Municipal Court in Atlanta. Equal parts earnest and defiant, this group was about as diverse as the city itself. Ranging from teenaged to middle-aged, polished to punky, representing a variety of backgrounds, they were all there for the same reason; to defend their right to feed the hungry.
In January of 2017, the Georgia Department of Community affairs reported that there are approximately 3,716 homeless people in the state. Since Atlanta’s largest shelter was shut down in August, the situation in the city is expected to grow more dire, leaving many homeless Atlantans with no place to go.
On top of that, Atlanta has also seen a rise in gentrification in recent years, which many believe is leading to a full on affordable housing crisis. In addition to making housing less affordable, the gentrification process has led to a crackdown by the police to keep homeless citizens out of sight-and out of mind.
All of this came to a head recently when a volunteer for the group Food Not Bombs Atlanta was cited by Georgia State University Police for handing out free food in Hurt Park. According to the officer who issued the citation, a permit is required to distribute food in a public space. The group has denied the allegation, citing a case that was won by the ACLU in 2000.
After local law enforcement started distributing flyers ordering citizens to stop giving food to the homeless, Food Not Bombs released a flyer of its own:
Food Not Bombs says it’s been feeding hungry people in Atlanta for more than ten years and has no plans to stop. The recent crackdown has only encouraged the group to double down on its efforts by hosting giveaway events throughout the city, including one in front of the courthouse where their comrade attended her hearing.
Adele MacLean, affectionately known as “Earthworm” by her colleagues, was cited for giving out food at Hurt Park, which she says she’s been doing for eight years. Her charges were dropped on Thursday, but it’s unlikely that the battle is over for those who plan to continue handing out free food in Atlanta.
MacLean spoke to several media outlets outside the courthouse after her scheduled hearing, saying:
“I’m still outraged that this is happening. I’m concerned that the city, whenever they want to crack down on the homeless, they’re going to go after anyone that tries to help them. The city is trying to make the place as inhospitable to the homeless as possible in order to drive them away and sweep the problem under the rug.”
Needless to say, feeding the hungry should not be considered a crime, and if authorities insist that acts of love and acceptance are against the law, then those laws must be broken. No one deserves to be discarded and forgotten because they’ve fallen on some rough circumstances. Now more than ever, it’s important that we be there for each other.
If you’re interested in helping Food Not Bombs feed the hungry, you can keep up with its events and donation requests via its Facebook page. It’s a small, dedicated collective that’s always in need of volunteers and support.
All photos taken by Brittany Wortham, 2017