City of Houston to Vote on Charitable Feeding Ordinance

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Photos by Allison McPhail
Protesters against a proposed charitable feeding ordinance held a press conference outside City Hall on Tuesday afternoon in advance of a public hearing.
Every Sunday morning at 8:30 a.m., volunteers for Noah's Kitchen gather at Jenni's Noodle House in the Heights and begin prepping for their day ahead. Since 2010, the charity's mission has been to feed Houston's homeless one meal at a time.

In their first year, Noah's Kitchen volunteers fed 5,000 people; that number doubled to 10,000 by 2011. And they're just one of the organizations concerned that a proposed new ordinance against charitable feeding could seriously impede their work.

The initial draft of a charitable feeding ordinance prepared on March 1 would have required charities like Noah's Kitchen to register with the City of Houston's Health and Human Services Department, take food safety and training classes and receive certifications to handle food, and receive written consent from a property owner before conducting any charitable feeding activities on the property. Refusal to follow the rules outlined in the ordinance would have resulted in fines of up to $2,000 per day.

"Some of the institutional feeding situations that are going on are very dehumanizing," said Ecclesia Church employee Joey Davis during a protest at City Hall earlier this week. Many homeless people choose not to eat in these types of situations -- the Star of Hope being one notable example -- and therefore rely on charitable feeding as one of their few options to obtain healthy food on a consistent basis.

Fed up with the thought of the City legislating acts of charity like this, advocates from across Houston -- and from nearly every walk of life -- banded together to fight the ordinance on Tuesday afternoon. Nick Cooper of Food Not Bombs' Houston chapter and Barry Klein of the Houston Property Rights Association joined forces with the Houston Tea Party, the Catholic Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, the Houston Young Republicans, the Houston Libertarian Party and various synagogues, mosques and even Hare Krishna temples throughout the city.

It almost sounds like a bad joke: How do you know a proposed ordinance is utterly ludicrous? When Republicans, Democrats and Libertarians, Christians, Jews, Muslims and atheists all agree that it is.

The City Council appeared to agree, having now postponed voting on the ordinance over the course of two separate sessions.

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Protesters from all walks of life turned out on Tuesday afternoon.
In a public hearing on Tuesday afternoon, representatives from dozens of charitable organizations and religious groups flooded the chambers to speak before the City Council in opposition to the ordinance. But before any impassioned speeches could take place, Mayor Parker announced revisions to the ordinance that were wholly unexpected.

"Obviously, this needs a little more work," Parker said as she addressed the crowd. "And we appreciate those who constructively engaged on the issue." City employees passed out papers to the audience stating that a new draft had been written.

The new draft still emphasized "private property rights," which Parker called the main issue at hand: Charities would still need to receive written permission from property owners, but reduced the penalty for failure to do so to a misdemeanor with fines up to $500.

Moreover, registration in a proposed Recognized Charitable Food Service Provider Program would be on a voluntary basis. The program would require charities to follow basic hygiene and sanitation rules, allow the HDHHS to inspect their facilities and clean up after each charitable feeding.

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People attending the public hearing raised their hands in silent support of each speaker, as applause is not allowed in Council chambers.
Those protesting the ordinance were not mollified, including Councilwoman Helena Brown, who has been among those council members opposed to the ordinance.

"The City is in dire financial straits," Brown commented at one point during the public hearing, questioning where the City would even pull the funds for enforcing another new ordinance. "If we can't enforce the laws that are already on the books, why are we even thinking about adding another law to enforce that would only add to the burden of police officers and city officials?"

Neil Meyer of the Houston Tea Party agreed: "With every law or regulation, there's always a creeping aspect to it. Once it's in place, it starts piling up and getting more and more restrictive," said Meyer. "We already have laws in place that can actually deal with this," he continued, referencing both state laws on nuisance issues and local laws on trespassing.

Most of the protestors were equally concerned about the "creep" factor in such a broad ordinance, which could easily be applied to other activities: picnics, food distribution in disaster situations and even the Occupy movement.



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20 comments
Ed T.
Ed T.

"Mayor Parker argued that City property is, indeed, private -- it's owned by the City, she reminded people -- and that the owner of City property should have the same rights as any homeowner or other private property owner."

Uh.... sorry Ms. Mayor, but City property is owned by We the People. It is, in fact, public property - and you are simply the custodian, acting on our behalf. If you don't recognize the difference between private and public property, then maybe you need to take a remedial Civics course.

Matthew
Matthew

what is wrong with the thinking of our politicians that they would actively limit free giving of help from one citizen to another? are they that threatened that their hold on the minds and allegiances of the less fortunate will be lessened on voting day if they aren't the ones providing the help? are they delusional enough that they think that they are the only ones who could safely feed another person? it's ridiculous.

Sanguinario
Sanguinario

If anyone wants a good read about these LNWIs (low net worth individuals) being helped and the obstacles they face from the modern state, read 'Super Sad True Love Story'. Addresses the same issues in a darkly comic sorta way. He's reading in Houston on Monday. Scary. Funny. Relevant.

Texas Ranches For Sale
Texas Ranches For Sale

These ideas are for the ones that have a little passion for history and unlocking the world. The main idea here is that there have been a lot of events in this world that haven't been fully understood or acknowledged. A few people have the keys to certain events and that's the main reason why there are so many mysteries that have not been discovered. There are people who have taken up the Texas ranch for sale opportunities in order to change the scenery and have found themselves in the position of discovering various items that were hidden in their backyard. Those are the ones that have fallen in love with the place they were living. 

Changeagent
Changeagent

Am I the only one who remembers when then Mayor Whitmire said the migrating birds "don't stop there anymore" referring to the shallow wetlands near Sugarland in order to advance the expansion of Hull Airport. Mayors, all of them do strange and inconsistent things. Did she really believe that the migration pattern that had been unchanged for thousands of years could be changed by vote of Houston City Council? Really?  

Changeagent
Changeagent

Am I the only one who remembers when then Mayor Whitmire said the migrating birds "don't stop there anymore" referring to the shallow wetlands near Sugarland in order to advance the expansion of Hull Airport. Mayors, all of them do strange and inconsistent. Did she really believe that the migration pattern that had been unchanged for thousands of years could be changed by vote of Houston City Council? Really? 

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Evan
Evan

Mayor Brown? Freudian slip there. Its ok, we all make a mistake like that every now and penis. 

Sherron Corry
Sherron Corry

Are our gov't officals insane? We are violating constitutional rights; gov't officials claiming public property should be treated as private property; gov't is cutting back on services to the poor and now wants to stop services from charitable organizations to help the homeless and those without food.  What is more alarming is that these increased legislative mandates are coming from the republicans who claim they want less gov't.  Apparently, less gov't only applies to those without needs.  If you are in poverty then it appears they are seeking a way to disenfranchise you from receiving any assistance - public or private.

Handfasted1
Handfasted1

Please, Mayor Parker and City Council:  do not make it more difficult to feed the hungry.  if the city is not going to do it [and it is obvious that it isn't], get out of the way of the people who are actually feeding the hungry.  

Catherine Matusow
Catherine Matusow

 I just read this, it was terrifying. Not only the treatment of LNWIs, but Onionskin jeans!

Dwilkinson
Dwilkinson

I was trying to figure out who Mayor Brown is...

Evan
Evan

While Parker is not a Republican, one could argue that the pro-development and property owners who are the real supporters behind this amendment are Republican. But the fact of the matter is that city hall is nominally non-partisan, and this shows in the sort of officials who get elected and the way that lines are drawn in city council votes. Tea Partier Helena Brown probably has the most in common with former CM Jolanda Jones, who is probably best described as a liberal. However, they both have an anti-establishment attitude and style that made them outsiders on the council. The city doesn't deal with the usual political wedge issues, so normal descriptors don't really apply here. 

Cat4kat
Cat4kat

Mayor Annis Parker is a Domocrat.  This was her baby.  I went to the City Council meeting and testified and stayed the entire 3 hours.  She was completed unmoved but knew she couldn't pass this ordinance because of the coalition and she simply didn't have the votes.  Please don't make this about parties.  THis is about feeding hungry people

GDI and happy
GDI and happy

 " What is more alarming is that these increased legislative mandates are coming from the republicans who claim they want less gov't."

Ummm, Mayor Parker, the one pushing this agenda, is anything but a Republican.

ec
ec

With many republican groups AGAINST this, your attempted argument is a fallacy.

Doc
Doc

"Domocrat" is actually a really cool typo. Please come up with a definition for it.

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