Citizens Vow To Fight Homeless Feeding Law

A law on feeding the homeless passed in city council. But one coalition of non-profits and citizens says they'll fight the new law with a petition and possibly a lawsuit.

Houston Councilmembers approved an ordinance on feeding the homeless that was a shell of the original proposal made by Houston Mayor Annise Parker.

Parker wanted an ordinance that would restrict where and when groups could hand out food, as well as require training and certification requirements for food preparation and handling.

Instead, in an 11-6 vote, the council passed a version that simply calls for groups to get permission before handing out food.

Councilmember Melissa Noriega voted for the ordinance.

"I think the real issue, frankly, is that we're not doing enough to address the whole homeless consideration. I think that we have left it in the hands of our veterans' office and it may be too much, because so many of them are veterans, but I don't think that's enough. So I think the real message in this is that there are things we need to do."

Noriega suggested the city should reexamine how it uses federal funding to address affordable housing, veterans' services and other issues related to homelessness.

As soon as the vote was taken, opponents of the law gathered in the lobby outside council chambers. Nick Cooper represents a charitable organization called Food Not Bombs and formed a coalition of citizens who oppose the law.

"The coalition is going to be energized to take this on in all the other avenues that become possible at this point in terms of lawsuits, petitions. But really the most important thing is the public. We need people to get involved with the Houston Keep Sharing Free Coalition because right now Houston has just agreed to become a city where it's a crime to pull over and help somebody on the side of the road because you don't have written permission to do so."

Cooper says his group will start a petition drive to put the ordinance up for public referendum on the November ballot.

Chris Carmona is an attorney working with the opponents and says they're also considering litigation.

"What the city's trying to do is make public property private property. Public property belongs to the citizens of the City of Houston. And to try to preclude charities, individuals and organizations from feeding on public property is against what government should be doing. The local government does not have the right to regulate charity in that manner."

According to city rules, citizens have 30 days to collect the 20,000 signatures required to put the ordinance to a public vote.

 

From a City of Houston, March 20, 2012 press release:

Houston Councilmembers amended the ordinance to not be enforced until July 1st and it will come up for committee review on January 1st to see if it's effective.

Organizations desiring to participate in the voluntary Recognized Charitable Food Service Provider Program will be required to:

  • Register basic contact information with the City of Houston
  • Cooperate with the City in scheduling any food service event at which five or more individuals will be fed
  • Follow basic hygiene, sanitation, and food safety rules provided by the Houston Department of Health and Human Services
  • Have at least one person at each food service site who has completed the free training in sanitary food preparation offered by HDHHS
  • Authorize inspections by the HDHHS of their kitchens, transport vehicles and the like
  • Implement changes suggested by the Health Department
  • Clean up after the event
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Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...