Activists Promise to Challenge Houston’s Ban on Feeding the Homeless
Stephen C. Webster
The Houston City Council voted this week to require prior permission before any citizen may distribute food to five or more people on public property, but local activists are preparing to fight back — and hard.
While the ordinance passed Wednesday night by an 11-6 vote was drastically stripped down from the version supported by Houston Mayor Annise Parker, activists say they’re going to challenge it in court and attempt to gather 20,000 signatures over the next month, which should be enough to trigger a city-wide vote on the ordinance in November.
It turns public property into private property,” Chris Carmona, a civil rights attorney in Houston and volunteer with the charitable group Noah’s Kitchen, told Raw Story on Friday. “We already have trespassing laws on the books. We have loitering laws. We have littering laws. But to take public property and turn it private… That’s our local government’s recent mood. That’s our biggest concern.”
The ordinance that passed Wednesday night requires groups to obtain permission from the city before handing out any food, and imposes a fine of $500 for anyone who defies the rule. It also allows the city to designate certain organizations as “recognized” charitable food providers, which would have to adhere to certain rules mostly pertaining to cleanliness.
The disjointed groups opposing the city on public food distribution are being led by the local chapter of Food Not Bombs, which boasts that they have been serving Houston’s homeless community four nights a week over the last 18 years. They helped lead the charge against the original proposal, which would have required food handlers’ licenses and special permits from the city to serve food in a public place.
“This will make it a crime to pull over to the side of the road and hand out food to five or more people,” Nick Cooper, spokesman for Houston Food Not Bombs, told Houston newspaper The Memorial Examiner.
Carmona added that his group, Noah’s Kitchen, would be restricted to operating at only very specific locations, and likely far away from the less-seen populations they try to serve. He pointed to the city’s wealthier land and business owners as having been influential in the city’s thinking on the ordinance, which he claimed essentially says that the city owns all public property.