Stansbury: Stopping outdoor shelters no picnic

Stansbury argues that Mayor Nutter’s stance against outdoor feeding shelters is the right one to take.

Cindy Stansbury

Cindy StansburyIn Philadelphia’s total population of 1,536,471, more than 400,000 people “experience food insecurity at any given time,” according to an official task force report given to Mayor Michael Nutter.

The First Congressional District of Pennsylvania, which includes South and Central Philadelphia, has one of the highest hunger rates in the country, ranking fourth in 2011 according to a yearly report issued by the Food Research and Action Center. This inability to feed residents represents a flaw in the system and, by extension, how feeding programs are handled.

In April, Nutter sought to change the system to rectify its flaws for the sake of the progress some crave.

Nutter put a ban on the outdoor feeding of the homeless in order to move these services indoors. He was then slammed with a series of legal battles in which his action was revoked and then reimplemented again. In response to this event, he assembled a task force to comparatively research the outdoor feeding stations.

Ultimately, it was concluded from the task force that in the dogfight of outdoor vs. indoor,  indoor was the winner. Indoor feeding shelters are more effective in the sense that they have the capacity to serve more people. End of argument, right?

Wrong. Nutter is still continually defending his position on this issue that, quite frankly, I believe is completely correct. Just let the homeless be fed indoors.

In the report issued by the task force, a majority of participants preferred indoor feeding stations because they favored environments in which they felt safe, protected and valued.

The task force also states that at an indoor feeding station, about 1,859 meals are served per day. Also, with increased resources, they have the potential to serve 50 percent more than they already provide. Outdoor feeding stations only serve in the range of 33 to 129 people per meal.

Clearly, it is safe to assume that if the money that was originally funneled into these outdoor stations was moved indoors instead, more of the homeless residents of the city would have been fed and provided for.

As well as assembling information on the differences between feeding venues, the report contains information on how to move forward after the ban. Step one is to open more indoor feeding venues. Step two concerns providing additional funding and enlisting the help of extra volunteers. Step three is to better communicate where the feeding stations are located and step four is to provide better services.

If these steps are followed, it is evident that Nutter’s decision will result in great progress for the hungry.

However, some are still adamant in sticking with old perspectives, arguing that the outdoor stations provide a community for the homeless and a surrogate home for them to enjoy. But the outdoor feedings simply do not provide enough stable service to remain open. What these non-believers must remember is that in order for the state of things to improve, sacrifices must be made.

How about a real-life scenario?

“When I was homeless on the streets on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, I conditioned myself to one meal a day because I knew food would be limited,” one survey participant said.

I challenge any of you who argue that the outdoor feedings should remain to reconsider.

As a city we all must put our faith in the changes that must be made for the betterment of those less fortunate than ourselves. Do not hold onto the past simply because it’s what is familiar. Progress needs to happen. Philadelphians need to get on board.

If you get to enjoy food indoors, why can’t the homeless do the same?

Cindy Stansbury can be reached at

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