According to a new report making headlines this week, 21 American cities have passed laws designed to stop residents from sharing food with homeless people since 2013. The finding, which comes from the National Coalition for the Homeless, highlights an increasingly popular belief that hunger motivates troubled individuals to make lifestyle changes. Food aid, in this view, keeps the homeless complacent. In an interview with NPR, one consultant argued that “Street feeding is one of the worst things to do… it’s very unproductive, very enabling, and it keeps people out of recovery programs.” Many city officials quoted in the report have extended this line of thinking to community soup kitchens and food pantries as well. They see those offerings as well-intentioned, but ultimately misguided attempts to help. One, a police captain from Cincinnati, remarked “If you want the bears to go away, don’t feed the bears.” Research shows this isn’t the case, and these attitudes may actually harm people experiencing homelessness.

Social scientists have amassed a great deal of knowledge about the connection between homelessness and hunger. Over and over, they’ve shown that people with stable food access tend to fare better in other aspects of life.
More importantly, these people aren’t animals and homelessness is no mere matter of individual laziness or poor choice. A number of well known structural factors cause and sustain homelessness, including social stigma, poor access to affordable housing, limited employment opportunities, mental health factors, and physical disabilities.

For more on homelessness, check out TROT posts on last year’s polar vortex and this year’s VMAs.

In the latest push against an FCC proposal that would create fee-based “fast lanes” on the Internet, a coalition of tech companies purposely slowed download speeds on their websites. The idea – to demonstrate to users how the new rules might slow traffic on non-paying sites – generated quite a stir: as of September 10th, the FCC received a record-breaking 1.4 million public comments on the proposal.

The coalition of protesting firms includes a roster of sites that rely heavily on user uploads: Mozilla, Etsy, PornHub, Kickstarter, Vimeo, and Reddit all voluntarily slowed traffic. Netflix also joined, displaying a message explaining to users “If there were Internet slow lanes, you’d still be waiting.” Tech giants Google and Twitter added their opposition as well. Protest organizers are asking the FCC to reclassify the Internet as a “Common Carrier” under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, thereby granting the government special regulatory powers designed to protect the web as a kind of public commons.

For most of us, the idea of a “commons” calls to mind a kind of protected natural resource, like the public lands that ecologist Garrett Hardin wrote about in his classic article, “Tragedy of the Commons.” The protesters, though, are asking the FCC to create a “commons” from a service that was built in-part by Internet service providers who now want to charge for speed. So, where might the government stake its claim on a proprietary public service? David Harvey and other social scientists have shown how and why capitalist societies engage in this kind of “commoning.”
The incredible outpouring of individual action in this protest owes a great deal to the organizing efforts of a number of large corporations, each with its own ideological and financial interests in the final ruling. What do you call a campaign that uses grassroots tactics, but takes cues from big business? “Astroturfing”, says Sociologist Edward Walker – and it’s more common than you might think.