With states reluctant to run adult feeding programmes, this task is undertaken by religious charities. But few offer wholesome food or treat the poor with dignity.
...We found that only 4% of homeless persons depend completely on these charities for food. These are mainly destitute homeless persons, disabled and elderly men and women, and younger street children, with no occupation or income except alms. Working able-bodied homeless persons also occasionally go for charity food but only as a last resort, at times of utter economic distress, when they completely exhaust any savings to arrange for food through other means.
...We were curious why such small numbers of homeless people depend on food charity, and prefer to spend their scarce resources on purchasing food, or even to remain hungry. The first answer that they gave us was that the food is served sporadically, and is not the wholesome food that they seek or need. Charity forces persons to be dependent on the timing, menu and availability of food at religious places, determined by the wishes of the donors, rather than the needs of homeless people. Waiting uncertainly for charity food curtails work hours of labouring homeless persons; many of whom are casual job-seekers, for whom reaching the job market early in the morning is imperative for getting employment for the day.
...But the most important reason why homeless people and migrants reject food charities is that these assault their dignity and selfhood. They are compelled to jostle with outstretched cupped palms, and eat what they get squatting on a pavement or under a tree. Often they are forced to be pitted against each other in an effort to access the limited food that is served, and the old and infirm invariably fall by the wayside.