Soup kitchens: Autonomy or Assistance-based?

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The director of Arrels Fundació shares his thoughts on the true role of soup kitchens and their virtues and consequences.

Ferran Busquets

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Director of Arrels Fundació, member of Fundació Mambré and ECAS

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The role of soup kitchens is to provide food to people who cannot afford it. People living out in the streets, people with no financial means, or people whose houses don’t allow them to cook. So far, so good.

For people living in the streets, soup kitchens may also be an opportunity to learn about their situation, bring them together and find a good solution. The problem, however, is that this solution won’t be found quickly. For people with no financial means…is going to a place to be fed the solution? Or would a solution be to give them the possibility of cooking at home? For houses that don’t allow their dwellers to cook, wouldn’t it be better to help them so they can cook at home?

The problem arises between autonomy and assistance-based models. At a meeting I once asked what was the goal of the whole welfare system, and one person vehemently replied “that people don’t die of hunger”. I believed this answer, because in reality we always leave it at that. We don’t actually believe we should go beyond this. We don’t understand that autonomy may seem costly, in the short term, but that it is very important, in the mid-term.

Let’s try imagining for a moment what the impact would be for us if a close relative or friend told us they had to go and stand in a line at a soup kitchen every day. Let’s even try imagining that person was us. The impact of finding yourself in this situation is huge. We continue to offer solutions that aren’t solutions at all; they’re patches.

Showers, lockers, soup kitchens, shelters. All of them are costly patches that only bring stigma and suffering to people. Also frustration to the professionals who see that solutions are still far from being reached. Solutions must be based on autonomy. People must be able to eat a meal at home: If they don’t have housing, they should have one. If they do have housing, they should be encouraged to eat at home.

We don’t value autonomy because, when it comes to it, we don’t value people and their possibilities.

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