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Potluck For The People Meets City Resistance, Organizers Hit With Fees

Image pulled from video by Erika Allen

If something you poured your heart into with the well-being of others in mind was crushed with pettiness and disregard for your efforts, how angry would you be?

This is the situation TRIIIBE finds itself in. A homelessness-focused charity event organized by the social-conscious hip hop group is facing down the City of Cincinnati in a fee dispute.

Potluck for the People, one of the group's several community outreach efforts, takes place on the last Sunday of every month. Volunteers set up tables in Piatt Park and bring food to give to people experiencing homelessness in Cincinnati's urban core. But it isn't just a potluck: they also provide haircuts, counseling, medical services, and hiring events. The volunteers serve groups of 30 people at a time to keep the park from becoming too chaotic and to ensure that they spread their service to everyone in need.

The Potluck didn't start quietly. Using donations from the Tribe Drive and fervor from the community, TRIIIBE launched the event with a crew of passionate volunteers. According to the event Facebook page, the idea was simple: "It is our goal to bring hot food that nourishes the body as well as snack foods that can be consumed on the go. This is so important for the simple fact - if home is where the heart is... then it’s obvious that we must bring love to the streets of our city!"

The first two Potlucks, on February 25 and March 25, passed without incident. Police even passed through the event and were friendly toward the organizers. But it didn't last. During the third Potluck, the power was cut to the area, forcing the volunteers to continue without the aid of the park's power outlets. With some research, Siri Imani and the other organizers found a permit cost of $500 to use the park. Piatt Park is a two-block-long, tree-lined promenade bordered by two one-way streets at Garfield Place. It's located across from the Downtown branch of the Cincinnati Public Library, one of a handful of safe havens for people experiencing homelessness in the Central Business District. If you weren't familiar with it, you might be forgiven for thinking it was part of the street, but it is, in fact, a public park, operated by Cincinnati Parks. When TRIIIBE contacted the Parks for a charity waiver of the fee, they received a response just three days before the next Potluck denying them a waiver.

"When the city expects you to pay $500 a month for a permit to feed the people THEY neglect... Biopic material," Imani said in a Facebook post.

Before we continue, let's talk some statistics on the people Cincinnati. According to the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition...

  • 3.5 million Americans experience homelessness every year.

  • 1.35 million American children will experience homelessness this year.

  • 800,000 American men, women, and children experience homelessness each night.

  • 39 percent of people experiencing homelessness are children, and 45 percent of children who experience housing insecurity are under the age of five.

  • Families are the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population.

  • The homeless population is 49 percent African-American, 35 percent Caucasian, 13 percent Hispanic, two percent Native American, and one percent Asian.

  • African American and LGBTQ individuals are affected by homelessness at a much higher rate, compared to white, cis, heterosexual individuals.

  • In January of 2014, communities across America identified 49,933 veterans experiencing homelessness. Veterans are about 8.5 percent of the total homeless population.

  • About 26 percent of the homeless population suffers from some form of drug abuse, including alcohol. Drug use is often a coping mechanism of living in dangerous and unsettled situations. This does not mean that drug abuse led to homelessness.

  • About 16 percent of people experiencing homelessness have severe chronic mental illness.

With these facts in mind, and with the ball already rolling on an event that could change the lives of those experiencing homelessness, TRIIIBE went ahead with the fourth installment on May 27. However, Jim Burkhardt, Cincinnati Parks' Superintendent of Operations, attempted to shut down the Potluck and according to Imani, said he would “make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

"This isn’t the first time we’ve been met with resistance from the city, but this time def hurt the most," said Imani, "Now we are so blessed to have solid people and organizations around us willing to partner. And they have, faithfully. But none of us are rich. So when we all together shed out about $500 to $600 just to make sure people in our city are feeling loved, fed, and have a good time for one day of each month, why not leave us the hell alone?" Yesterday, Imani's mother, one of the volunteers at the Potluck, contacted Cincinnati Parks regarding the permit and fees. In response, Burkhardt back-billed her $450 for the last event (after graciously deducting the electricity bill because they brought their own generators). I'll let you come up with your own opinions about people who shut down grassroots charity events run by taxpayers in a public space that benefit this city's most needy.

Just because they're facing resistance doesn't mean TRIIIBE has given up. They still plan to hold the fifth Potluck for the People on June 24. If you want to support their cause, there are several ways to do so:



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