Helping our invisible neighbors


Photo: Alan Strakey, via flickr
With minimal effort, businesses can help alleviate hunger
BY CRYSTAL WOLFE

About 150 billion pounds of food goes to waste in this country each year. According to the nonprofit Feeding America, one in seven people in the U.S. struggle with hunger on a daily basis — yet there is enough food being thrown away to feed everyone in the nation. The nonprofit I founded, Catering for the Homeless, connects catering companies with organizations and churches that distribute the good food they would otherwise throw away to the hungry and homeless in their communities and help alleviate some of the hunger crisis in our city.

There are hundreds of catering companies in New York City who throw away high-quality food every day of the year, predominately in the Manhattan area. This is a call to action for churches, nonprofits, catering companies and restaurants in Manhattan to join this program, and get food to those who need it, whether to the over 60,000 people in city homeless shelters, or to the millions of poor people, especially families, who aren’t homeless but have difficulties making ends meet and, as a result, also experience hunger.

As an incentive for catering companies and restaurants, participation is a tax write-off. Donors and distributors of food are protected by Good Samaritan laws. Nonprofits and churches are also afforded similar protections under their 501c3 status.

Governor Andrew Cuomo last month signed into law the Comprehensive State and Local Government Food Waste Prevention and Diversion Act, which directs the state’s Departments of Education and of Agriculture to put together guidelines that would allow and encourage schools and universities to donate excess edible food to organizations that help the hungry. The legislation, co-sponsored by state Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr., will greatly assist nonprofits like Catering for the Homeless to find additional support through educational and other institutions.

In response to a homelessness crisis that is among the worst the country has ever seen, by some estimates worse than during the Great Depression, I wrote a comprehensive book on homelessness, “Our Invisible Neighbors,” that explores the problem’s causes and possible solutions.

In the course of my research, I found that it costs the government more to keep the homeless unhoused, costs borne by the legal system, including jails, hospital visits, hotel rooms and the like than it does to house them. In short, solving, or even reducing, homelessness will save taxpayers money.

Another initiative, proposed by Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi and backed by numerous state legislators, Home Stability Support, would enable renters and homeowners in danger of losing their housing to stay in their homes through a state and federally funded rent assistance program.

And cities, states and even countries have ended or greatly reduced homelessness predominantly by using the what’s called a housing first method. Its foundational principle is, simply enough, providing a home to the homeless, then giving them the programs they need to get back on their feet: job training, therapy, AA, medications and other means and services. The premise is that people need stability in their lives to move forward. HSS is an even better method to end homelessness because it is preventative.

Another problem and a component of homelessness, particularly in New York City, is gentrification. The Small Business Jobs Survival Act that has made the City Council rounds but has yet to develop widespread support would help restore economic equality to business owners, support art and cultural institutions, maintain the character of neighborhoods, and help save jobs in our city.

Homelessness is a solvable problem.

More information for “Our Invisible Neighbors,” which explores many of these solutions in greater depth, can be found through the website for Catering for the Homeless. Contact cateringforthehomeless@gmail.com to get involved as a volunteer, or if you are a church, nonprofit, catering company, restaurant or educational facility willing to use this program to end the waste of food in our city, and help alleviate hunger.