North New Jersey DSA

December 14th, 2021

In Newark, New Jersey’s largest city and the location of many of North NJ DSA’s organizing work, enforcing an ordinance that would restrict feeding houseless people who live on the street is being proposed. This rule would require groups servicing the houseless population through food shares, mutual aid distributions, etc. to get a permit. We wholeheartedly condemn this decision made by city officials under Mayor Ras Baraka to criminalize the poor and those who help feed them. It is a clear attack on those who live in Newark without addresses and yet another example of Newark’s anti-homeless policies.

This is not the first time this law and similar anti-poor practices have been put into effect within the city. In 2020, a spiked fence was put up around Peter Francisco Park near Penn Station where many people without addresses live, an example of hostile architecture. Back in 2019, a similar ordinance was pushed in light of various groups donating food, and Newark police were ticketing panhandlers and drivers who gave them cash. One of the organizations behind this recent push to enforce the ordinance is the Ironbound Business Improvement District, a group focused on marketing the neighborhood to gentrifiers under the guise of supporting local business. This is part of larger efforts to displace residents and make the area more hospitable for rich citydwellers and suburbanites instead of helping those who already call the Ironbound and surrounding neighborhoods home. 

Amidst rapid gentrification, there are many groups from churches to nonprofits with a variety of strategies and ideological backgrounds who do the work of feeding the homeless in Newark. Many of these more “established” groups may be able to continue serving the community with little to no interruption from police or the local government. The decision is a clear intervention by the state and organizations dedicated to gentrification to prevent independent groups such as Brick City Mutual Aid from providing poor, working class, and/or houseless peoples with food and supplies. In addition to food shares, BCMA and other groups have given out Naloxone–a life-saving medication that reverses fentanyl overdose. Police are not trained and do not want to be trained to dispense this medication during a medical emergency. BCMA’s ability to safely and competently dispense Naloxone is a life-saving service provision that is being threatened. 

Attacks against mutual aid programs are not new: we are reminded of the Black Panther Party’s free breakfast program, where federal agents came in and destroyed food supplies meant for low income children. Mutual aid seeks to build solidarity, not charity, with those negatively impacted by capitalist and societal forces by hosting distributions and food shares with no strings attached for those in need while also building networks of class and community solidarity. These projects undermine the power of the state to subjugate people by providing resources and forming collectives against landlords, police, and politicians whose main goals are to protect capital. Requiring these groups to have permits to do this radical work forces them to work within the system that led people to be homeless, instead of actively working against it. This ordinance also gives power to the city government and police to shut down projects that do not fall in line with “acceptable” forms of charity.

A comrade who is part of BCMA shared with us that on Sunday, December 12th at a food distribution, a cop was present and prevented people from parking next to the park, which made it harder to get supplies there. That was the first time they had noticed a police presence in over a year, and interactions and escalations with police are likely to increase.

If this ordinance is actively applied, here are some steps you can take to cop watch and fight back against those enforcing this ridiculous rule: if you are giving food away without a permit and are stopped by the police, record a video with the officer(s) if you are comfortable and confront them about why stopping ordinary people from providing food to others is violence. Be sure to record the police officers’ badge numbers and names if possible. Before sharing the video, make sure that peoples’ identities other than the cops are hidden. If you need help with video editing, please reach out to the Media and Communications Team who can help you prepare videos for posting. We need to expose the everyday harassment that cops commit against the poor and/or houseless and the people who stand in solidarity with them, and share with the public why what they do is wrong.

Despite city officials citing concerns over “health and safety,” there has been no case of anyone getting sick from food given out over the past two years in Newark. The REAL health crisis is the fact that people are allowed to die of starvation, COVID, and other preventable causes on our streets. If elected officials and the community groups that collaborate with them really cared about the health and safety of homeless people, then they would have homeless people be represented in decisions made that directly affect their lives.

In a country full of food waste that would rather see resources be thrown away instead of being given to those in need, this ordinance being pushed by city officials and business owners is especially egregious. We fully denounce the city for pushing permits for giving food, the arbitrary decision to enforce this ordinance now during a pandemic AND the holiday season, and the continuous, dehumanizing attacks on homeless people. We are tired of band-aid solutions in the form of underfunded and unsafe shelters and over-policing and advocate for permanent housing, real community investment outside of gentrification, and drastic measures against slumlords and rising rents which kick people out on the street. In the meantime, we call for the full decriminalization of homelessness and providing resources to those without addresses.

Contact info for the Ironbound Business Improvement District: https://www.goironbound.com/contact-us/ 

Contact Newark City Government: https://www.newarknj.gov/contact-us 

For questions or comments about this statement, please contact Julia Tache, Media and Communications Chair of the North New Jersey Democratic Socialists of America: jat2167@columbia.edu 

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