Given all the hubbub last week over Obama’s dismal jobs report, you could be forgiven for missing a juicy nugget of local news: a modest proposal by Philadelphia’s Department of Health. A draft regulation adopted Thursday would require those busybody organizations that while away time passing out food to the homeless to obtain permits. Furthermore, there will be kitchen inspections, and at least one person on each site must be trained in the art of safe food handling when it comes time to ladle out the vittles.
Word is, it was that Occupy Philadelphia camp that made the city aware it had no jurisdiction in ensuring food given to the homeless was prepared in a safe manner. (So, something good has come out of those smelly dome tents after all. Mic check!) Some bleeding-heart homeless advocates are crying foul, as they do, fearing that the new regulation is little more than the latest measure to scoot the homeless off the Ben Franklin Parkway in advance of the opening of the wonderful new Barnes Foundation museum. (One can only hope that the proposal to exhume and relocate Albert Barnes himself will soon be passed.)
Indeed, unsanitary food is no small issue for our city’s hobos, but I contend that this proposal goes not nearly far enough. Herewith, then, are my addenda:
1. The temptation for corruption is simply too great among those who distribute foodstuffs to the homeless. What’s to stop them from skimping and dispensing just any old past-its-sell-date potted meat and baked beans? Organizations seeking to provide life-giving sustenance should be held to higher, perhaps unattainable, standards. I suggest they be made to distribute only high-quality foods pre-approved by the city. No off-brand Toritos chips, Little Rebbie snack cakes or Burger Kink hamburgers. Beggars can be choosers! (Applications for becoming a preferred brand and optional “application fees”—preferably non-sequential bills—will be accepted at weekly meet-’n'-greets with elder councilpersons at an undisclosed location.)
2. Of course, there really is no such thing as a free lunch. No city program comes without operational costs, so any homeless person hoping to accept good will shall also require certification in the form of a Handout Privilege License. This license can be obtained annually for $50, while a lifetime license can be purchased for a one-time payment of $300.
3. The city shall also impose a gross dole receipts levy, which amounts to 0.24 percent on all handouts received. Homeless must apply for a dole tax license (system requirements: Windows Explorer, landline telephone, two forms of photo ID).
4. As the homeless do tend to be something of an eyesore (dress for the job you want, fellas!) and a nose-sore (this isn’t France), the city will begin instituting a dress and grooming code for those hoping to receive food. A shirt with a collar or a dress, shoes (matching), slacks or a skirt will be required at all meals, along with proof of a shower at a city-sanctioned cleansing facility within three days preceding the meal.
5. The working class too must bear a burden, when it comes to the disposal of uneaten foodbits. The city shall require that all unwanted edibles be gently placed in a city-sanctioned receptacle, or displayed curbside in a plastic blue bucket, certified sanitary.
6. Finally, in the interest of exploring all avenues, we must acknowledge that many cultures have subsisted quite smashingly on human flesh. What’s good for Pacific Island cultures of antiquity is certainly good enough for our city’s homeless. Now, of course I’m not proposing that members of Philadelphia’s homeless community be rounded up willy-nilly, tossed into a giant Crock-Pot and eaten. There will be a lottery (Hunger Games indeed). Ten street dwellers, chosen as Shirley Jackson might, will be sacrificed to provide sustenance for their fellow homeless. To some, this proposal may seem distasteful. Do not fear. The lottery winners will be made to bathe thoroughly before climbing into the cauldron. Eventually the city’s homeless problem will devour itself out of existence, and be fed ever better over time. Win-win, as they say.
So, to our city officials, I say bravo for attempting to deal with the city’s homeless problem head on. That said, erecting bureaucratic barriers between those in need of food and those who would dispense it is just a baby step in the right direction. I believe the council of elders needs encouragement to take the necessary extreme measures. If you agree, why not chime in with the city’s Department of Health during a 30-day public comment period at 215-686-5000 or online at phila.gov/health.