It's Now Illegal to Feed [More Than Five] Homeless People [at Once] on Public Property

Categories: News

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After a protracted debate and opposition from nearly every political and religious group in the city, Houston's City Council passed an ordinance last week that bans serving charitable meals on properties -- public or private -- where the property owner hadn't granted express permission for you to do so.

The language behind the phrase "charitable meal" means that not only are the homeless affected; groups like Occupy would also be able to be starved out -- essentially -- from occupying public properties for too long. Bring food to Occupy protesters, and you're in violation of the ordinance, which comes with a $500-a-day fine. Think the City will grant permission for you to bring them food when Occupy seeks to reform this year? Think again.

Opponents of the ordinance were quick to point this out, in addition to the fact that the ordinance also infringes on people's right to freedom of expression through acts of charity -- whether those acts are religiously motivated or otherwise.

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Impassioned speeches at a City Council meeting last month made little impact on the outcome of the ordinance.
The council members who supported the ordinance included Mayor Annise Parker herself along with Ellen Cohen, Wanda Adams, Ed Gonzalez and Melissa Noriega. Opponents on the Council included Al Hoang, C.O. Bradford, Jack Christie and Helena Brown. It was Brown who spoke most passionately against the ordinance in last month's City Council session, calling it unnecessary and misguided, especially at a time when the City is strapped for cash.

"The City is in dire financial straits," Brown commented during last month's public hearing. "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?"

The ordinance was scaled down considerably from its initial language and penalties, which would have required charities or charity-minded persons to register with the City of Houston, take food safety courses and pay fines of $2,000 a day for failing to comply with the rules.

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Photos by Allison McPhail
Better luck in November, guys.
But that didn't mollify its opponents: The City will still require groups to obtain a permit to feed the homeless in, say, public parks. And that's why people like Nick Cooper of Food Not Bomb's Houston chapter have already begun organizing petitions and further protests, seeking to get the ordinance overturned on the November election ballot.

Within the nationwide trend of charitable feeding bans, it wouldn't be the first time an ordinance has been struck down: Las Vegas passed its own charitable feeding ban last July, but it was recently ruled as unconstitutional by a judge.



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19 comments
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Heynow
Heynow

yeah, it's illegal to feed without a permit. just like it's illegal for a restaurant to sell food without a permit.

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Angellike
Angellike

Come to Waller county. We will feed you. Mayor sleep tight in your warm comfy bed with your principles and unethical laws

SirRon
SirRon

Finger waggers unite!

Kansaspete
Kansaspete

Wow! "A 1000 Points of Light" would seem more appropriate in these times than when George HW Bush first suggested it as part of his compassionate conservatism.

Have souls in Houston hardened so much since then? Have we regressed to the 'pull yourself up by your bootstraps' philosophy of his predecessor?

Sad to dim the lights on good deeds.

SirRon
SirRon

I already had an "if y'all more than three, no food from me" rule anyway, so this ordinance doesn't affect me at all.

Cheflambo
Cheflambo

No good deed goes unpunished. 

steelsun
steelsun

I see lawsuits coming on the first application of the law.

Doak
Doak

I see some arbitrary and capricious enforcement in the future.  If that doesn't happen, then some sort of unintended consequences will come back and bite someone in the ass.  Either way, there could be a problem for the ordinance.

David
David

Like when the mayor gets voted out, and becomes destitute, then gets in a food line?  Oops...sorry...we're shutting this line down due to the ban on feeding more than 5 homeless people...sorry Mayor!  Better luck next time!  There won't be a next time, of course...the people that are feeding all of you today are being detained on suspicion of aiding terrorists...I'm sure that there was one or two in this lineup SOMEtime today (Grrrrrowwwwl).

John Seaborn Gray
John Seaborn Gray

See six homeless guys gathered around a bonfire in an alley? Want to hop out of your van and give 'em some sandwiches? YOU JUST BROKE THE LAW, ASSHOLE.

Compassionate people will go on being compassionate, it's just now they will be fined for doing so. It's a Compassion Tax. Good thing the people we elected who passed this shit don't dare call themselves Christians or else that would be really embarrassing for Christians who actually behave as such.

Corey
Corey

Our city and it's leadership are cretins, and greed mongers..

Jessica Michan
Jessica Michan

Actually, it is in fact legal to feed the homeless on public AND private property. The ordinance changes say that permission from a property owner only applies if the event includes more than 5 people. For events that include larger groups, the organization just needs to contact either the City or the property owner. Feeding the homeless at churches or other religious spaces are still legal and require nothing additional. At no point did City Council or the Mayor discourage any organization to feed the homeless. If you have questions about this or if your organization would like to become a part of the dialogue, please contact the Coalition for the Homeless or the City's Health & Human Services Department (call 311).

Pedantic Douchebag
Pedantic Douchebag

I count at least three false pieces of information in your comments. Nice.

Kansaspete
Kansaspete

"For events that include larger groups, the organization just needs to contact either the City or the property owner."

Sounds so easy, Jessica! Just contact them? No need to ask permission, or fill out an application? Get insurance?

jburt56
jburt56

As ye do unto the least of these. . .

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