Feeding the Homeless club calls for action to help homeless community

By Kevin McCall

Arts & Features Writer

kmccall1@unca.edu

Photo by Kevin McCall
Thomas Young, Jonah Gorenstein, Olivia Honaker and Carson Parmenter gather food for the homeless community in Asheville.

Members of Feeding the Homeless club at UNC Asheville assist homeless communities by giving them food as they call for legislative action to help those in need.

President of Feeding the Homeless club Jonah Gorenstein founded the club when he and a friend noticed they did not use up their meal plans every week and decided it could be put to good use by giving those meals to those in need. 

“We would just group up all of our swipes and go downtown and just hand them out. This year, we got an advisor and made it an official club,” he said.  

Vice President of Feeding the Homeless Sarah Lincourt said UNCA falls short when it comes to sustainability through the school’s meal plans on campus.

“If you have any left over at the end of the week, they just disappear. They’re gone. That’s like going to McDonald’s and buying seven meals and just throwing them in the garbage,” she said.

Co-director of nonprofit BeLoved Asheville Amy Cantrell said one of the leading causes of homelessness in Asheville is the city’s high cost of living combined with low-paying jobs, leaving many unable to afford housing. 

“We have the most expensive rents in North Carolina. All of these are compounded. Every year since 2014, our rents have gone up by 5.4% every year, which is a huge number,” Cantrell said. “Most people that are homeless have some kind of income. They just don’t have the income to afford the housing here.” 

According to Gorenstein, there is too much local legislation preventing more people from helping the homeless community in Asheville. 

“One of the reasons we cannot partner with other organizations is because any organization that is a nonprofit fundraiser, they have to meet certain regulations for the food they distribute. It has to be FDA approved, etc.,” he said. 

While Feeding the Homeless club doesn’t deal with restrictions due to the group not being a fundraiser like BeLoved, Gorenstein said it would be very beneficial for those restrictions to not exist for other organizations. 

“People need food. They don’t care so much if it’s from the grocery store downtown or if it’s something people made from home. They just want food so there shouldn’t be hoops to jump through to be able to help people,” he said.

Cantrell said legislative action must be taken on a state and national level and there must be an increase in building affordable housing for the homeless community. 

“At the state level there are things we would love to do, but can’t do because of state law, which is mandating folks that are building here to help build more affordable housing. That’s called inclusionary zoning,” she said. 

Lincourt said there should be a focus on preventing other causes of homelessness such as helping people with drug abuse problems and those battling mental health. 

“Nobody chooses to be homeless. Nobody wants to be homeless,” she said. “The first step is to start asking for more funding for areas that have high amounts of poverty, but don’t have adorable housing for those in poverty.” 

According to Gorenstein, many problems can be solved for those in the homeless community by working toward eliminating the food waste produced in the world.

“We have a lot of food waste. We have a lot of housing that goes to waste,” he said. “By minimizing that, we can solve a lot of problems for people that are not doing well.”

Photo by Kevin McCall
Feeding the Homeless club’s gathered food prepared for the homeless.

Although the pandemic caused an increase in homelessness, Gorenstein said even before COVID-19, homelessness in Asheville has always been a problem.

“It didn’t used to be this bad,” he said. “I dont think it’s going to increase now that the pandemic is subsiding but it definitely is a serious problem.”

Cantrell said one of the biggest misconceptions about homelessness is the preconceived notion of homeless people being lazy and not having jobs. 

“On the outside, people shout, ‘Get a job.’ Lots of people who are homeless work. I knew someone who was building one of our most expensive hotels in our community while living in a tent,” she said.

According to Lincourt, homelessness is a very taboo subject and many people hold discriminatory views toward the homeless community without even realizing it.

“I think a lot of people are under the impression that people become homeless because of something they’ve done wrong,” Lincourt said. “It’s just that culturally, we have very negative opinions toward homeless people.” 

Cantrell said the most powerful part of fundraising groups is the relationships built with the people. Those who are interested in becoming involved with helping the homeless must start by building a community.

“There’s a lot of power in that collective so certainly invite people to do that,” she said. “You can’t understand the context until you connect to people. Until you come down to street level.

Lincourt said she would like to see more members join the club which would also help with the group’s organization and planning. 

“We are such a volunteer based club. We rely on participation in order for the club to run. I feel like we could add more organization and structure for the club.”

Lincourt said she takes pride in the generosity generated by the club and hopes to see more people join and participate to help those in need.

“All of our members have been really open minded and generous. The love and community that comes together every Sunday is really impressive,” she said.