Mike Bloomberg and The Sodium Patrol: 10 Out Of 10 Homeless New Yorkers Agree Mayor's "Ban" On Food Donations Is Bunk
It was reported last month that New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg has taken it upon himself to make sure Gotham's homeless don't have too much salt in their diets by banning donations to city-run food shelters because the government can't monitor the salt content of the donated food.
When we first caught wind of Bloomberg's latest (alleged) act of nanny-state-ism -- in a March 19, op-ed for the New York Post by National Center for Public Policy Research senior fellow Jeff Stier (the mayor's office, however, tells the Voice Stier's article is incorrect. More on that below) we developed a theory: homeless people are more concerned with eating in general than they are with how much salt they're consuming.
Other publications have sought the opinion of those who run homeless shelters impacted by Bloomberg's supposed decision. We figured we'd take it to the streets and put our theory to the test by asking a sample of New York's homeless population how they feel about the mayor's treating them like children (and no, there is nothing more awkward than asking someone who's not homeless "hey, are you homeless?" Yeah...that happened twice).
We asked 10 homeless people (and, unfortunately, two non-homeless people) near the Bowery Mission to weigh in on Mayor Mike's supposed ban. Every one of them told us they thought it was ridiculous (amongst other four-letter adjectives).
Many of the folks we spoke with hadn't yet heard of the ban described in Stier's op-ed, but were inclined to weigh in anyway.
"Wait, because [Bloomberg] doesn't want us eating salt?" one homeless New Yorker, who only wanted to be identified as Marcus, asks the Voice. "That's some bullshit...when you're out on the street, and you're hungry and cold, you'll take what you can get. Shit, tell him to come out here and try it for a while...the motherfucker."
Another -- slightly less-animated -- homeless man says that he's concerned about what he eats, but that doesn't mean he's picky given his current lack of cash.
"Yeah, I do care about what I eat and what I put into my body -- I wasn't always [living on the street], you know...just 'cause I'm on the street doesn't mean I don't know what a healthy diet should be," George Munsil, 51, says. "But come on -- you're gonna turn away perfectly good food for people who are hungry? That makes no sense."
The other eight members of our random sample of homeless New Yorkers had similar feelings about Bloomberg's ban. Many were concerned that it would discourage people from donating to shelters.
However, the alleged ban still allows for people to donate food to the homeless -- just take it to privately run food shelters.
Staff inside the Bowery Mission refused to comment on the record about Bloomberg's ban (or let us take any photos of what appeared to be pretty decent food out of respect for the privacy of those eating it).
However, we discovered that the Bowery Mission still receives food donations because it's a private organization, which can't be controlled by Bloomberg and his food cops -- which is likely the reason staffers were so hush-hush about Bloomberg's alleged ban. In other words, they don't want to invite the wrath of Mayor Mike and the sodium patrol.
We asked the mayor's office why Bloomberg thinks it's his job to tell people what they can and can't eat. Bloomberg spokeswoman Samantha Levine offered the following response:
To clarify: the writer in the Post several weeks ago was mistaken. There is no new policy (nor has there been a change in policy) around food donations to homeless shelters. Homeless Services actually never took food donations in the City's homeless shelters: the shelter system is very heavily regulated - even beyond the City's nutritional guidelines - with specific requirements around food handling and serving that leave little room for donations.
Stier could not be reached for comment this afternoon.
Either way, according to our sample of New York's homeless population, donating excess food to people who need it should be encouraged, not overly regulated -- if Bloomberg wants to treat us all like children, the least he could do is provide city-funded bedtime stories and tuck-in services.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.