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Researching Alternatives to Bans on Feeding the Homeless

By Lauren Whetzel-Siburkis

After a federal judge brought the gavel down on a homeless feeding ban in Philadelphia last year, ANJALI CHAINANI PhD’14, a student in health policy at Mayes College, compiled a list of more than 40 cities across the U.S. with similar bans in place.

anjaliBecause this public feeding ban remains hotly debated in Philadelphia, Chainani delved further into her exploratory research and presented her findings, “Integrating Public Health and Urban Policy: Assessing the Impact of Public Feeding Bans on the Homeless Population,” at USciences’ annual Research Day last spring. She conducted her research under the guidance of STEPHEN METRAUX, PhD, interim director and associate professor of the health policy program.

Chainani, a director of legislation and special events for Philadelphia City Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell, said cities, including Myrtle Beach and Orlando, have successfully passed laws banning or limiting volunteers from sharing food in public with the intention to prevent food-borne illnesses and improve public health. Opponents, however, argue feeding bans are a violation of First Amendment rights.

“In Philadelphia, the idea for the feeding ban arose after the local Occupy movement shared food without a universal standard for food safety,” said Chainani. “Through my research, I found that feeding and serving the needs of people is a fundamental right. That means banning or opposing it—without working to solve this problem—is basically unconstitutional and inhumane.”

Between February and May, Chainani examined dozens of literature reviews, scholarly articles, and municipal codes across the country pertaining to foodsharing restriction policies. Luckily, alternatives to food-sharing restrictions do exist, and Chainani believes local governments and homeless advocates can work together to reach a common goal. Some of her recommendations include establishing mobile soup kitchens, homeless cafés, and college
meal plan sharing programs with the homeless, as well as implementing food sharing in school curriculums.

She was especially fascinated by how this issue overlapped her professional and student work. Because Councilwoman Blackwell represents the third district of Philadelphia, which includes University City, Chainani works and attends school within the same jurisdiction.

“With the proposal to expand the Clark Park Farmers’ Market among other legislative initiatives, I have a unique opportunity to share my perspectives from my professional and student points of view,” said Chainani, noting farmers’ markets are also a topic of health policy.

Chainani is expected to complete her coursework in June 2014 and begin her dissertation by the fall. She is currently in the midst of evaluating the risk of cities imposing a sugar-sweetened beverage tax as an attempt to reduce rates of obesity in U.S. urban environments. Her ultimate goal is to find work assessing the Affordable Care Act after its October implementation with a particular focus on food and agricultural policies. Chainani earned her MPH and her MSW from Temple University in 2010 and has been employed with the City of Philadelphia since 2005.

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Categories: The Bulletin, Faculty, Students, Alumni, Academics, Research, Mayes College, Department of Health Policy, Health Policy, Public Health