Category Archives: Homeless Community

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Houston Homeless Advocates Face Off With Gentrified Snitches Near Downtown As Super Bowl Nears

Houston, TX – In April 2012, the City of Houston, including Mayor Annise Parker passed an anti – food sharing ordinance which made it illegal for any group or individual to feed the homeless or those in need without risking a fine of $500 – $2,000 or even jail. The ordinance states that if you feed more than 5 individuals, you can be subjected to breaking the law. To date, there are groups and homeless advocates who continue to feed the homeless without a permit that’s required to share food. Food Not Bombs Houston has been feeding Houston’s homeless over 23 years. FNB was at the forefront fighting the city over the ordinance and through today is the only food sharing group who doesn’t have to have permission from the city to feed those in need of a meal. FNB is made of up volunteers who are involved in church, activism, homeless advocacy or not involved in anything but just wants to come help. Individuals come from all diversities and share food M, W, F at 8 p.m. and Sun at 7 p.m., rain or shine, holiday or not. FNB refused to adhere to the city ordinance and that is why I’ve enjoyed working with the group for 5 years. The majority of volunteers who are committed truly have a heart for our homeless community. That is what makes this work so well, serving roughly 90 – 120 people. FNB is a vegetarian food sharing and prides itself on serving a healthier alternative. Homeless are not the only ones who come to eat. We’ve had scores of people throughout the years who have homes but don’t have enough food in the home so they come eat with FNB. Even volunteers are encouraged to eat, hence why we call this a food sharing and not a feeding.

Look behind FNB and that’s where you find a brightly lit of building that is Houston City Hall now run by Mayor Sylvester Turner who has also refused to reverse the anti – food sharing ordinance. Back in June 2016, Houston was dealing with a KUSH epidemic that impacted our homeless for months after Houston Police seized 9 tons of KUSH after making a bust the 3rd week of May. Within one week of the bust, Houston’s homeless were heavily impacted by KUSH use that flooded the streets of downtown and local parks around the downtown area. Coincidence? No. However, no police agency or city dept would admit that the flow of KUSH came by the same people who claim to serve and protect. Once the KUSH ran out, so did the issue of the concerns of our homeless who were on it, impacting communities. Mayor Turner used the KUSH matter at part of the reason for not reversing the food sharing ordinance. I’ve heard Turner defend the homeless through words however through action, I’m not seeing the same. December 22, 2016 at two different locations that happened nearly the same time, two homeless downtown hotspots were hit by police. Near Minute Maid Park, Houston Police caved into the homeless camp with city waste, trashing homeless items by the bulk. Several homeless claimed that their personal possessions were trashed without permission. HPD told the homeless to stand back or get arrested. At the Wheeler camp at the same time, Pct 7 police questioned whether I fed the homeless, reminding me it is illegal to feed. Admitting that I fed the homeless and wished they were 5 minutes earlier so I could receive a ticket, it left the officer dumbfounded. (Link below)

https://www.facebook.com/shere.dore.5/videos/1773082762953732/?pnref=story

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HPD and Houston Waste Mgmt show up at a homeless camp near Minute Maid Park Dec 22, 2016, trashing items belonging to the homeless

Mayor Turner had sent out a press release to the public concerning the Wheeler homeless camp. While originally I was glad that items belonging to the homeless were left untouched and that the city focused on the heavy trash under the bridge, I was disappointed by his use of stereotypes in the release. “Drug use” AND “crime” won’t be tolerated. No shit! It shouldn’t be tolerated by any citizen, not just the homeless however this is the continued stigma that city officials continue to push. This could be the words led by Janice Evans (his Communications Director & who hates me with a passion) however the words were approved by the Mayor and to continue to spew rhetoric that condition people to be scared of the homeless and continue this outlook. These are one of the reasons why we are here facing off.

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Part of Mayor Turner’s Press Release concerning Wheeler camps days ago

The entire press release can be linked here: http://www.houstongovnewsroom.org/go/doc/2155/2912434/

Fast forward to the last few months where homeless in the downtown area have been hearing rumors that the city is going to ensure their presence will no longer be during Super Bowl week, has caused homeless advocates and homeless advocate supporters to come out and determine how to handle this matter.  In San Francisco last year during their Super Bowl, it was illegal to be homeless in or around the area where Super Bowl festivities were taking place. In Houston, activists and advocates are refusing to let that happen. The Wheeler homeless camp has become a fighting ground between advocates, police/city of Houston and gentrified snitches. Gentrification has been a problem in Houston for years now. Areas of town where once white money wouldn’t dare drive in the communities are now throwing $200k – millions for gentrified housing in the same areas spoken the worst of over decades like 3rd Ward, Midtown, 4th Ward and so on. Executives who once flooded newly built territories in the suburbs like Sugar Land, Cinco Ranch, all the CY – areas and more have now come back into the city to buy homes near downtown. There’s only one problem… the homeless had that territory first. However, white money continues to build these aluminum boldly painted homes and while some tend to gravitate towards money and the “finer things of life” the truth is, we still have a homeless population that needs to be handled with care. If anything, just to receive a meal or proper healthcare. The gentrified snitches refuse to see it that way. Their idea and concerning revolves around money and their property values. Here are a couple of examples of gentrified snitches:

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These are the typical people who are walking zombies of society. They don’t have a compassionate bone in their body. They believe the world revolves around them only. They also swear they’ve visited with these same homeless several times and that all of them are healthy looking without mental issues so why can’t they go get a job? In reality, these are the kinds who eat up our planet with their inhumane bile and ego’s that stand taller than any of the buildings they work in, they decide to call the police anytime a group of people are seen at the Wheeler camp. The last 3 trips I’ve taken to Wheeler camp in a week has led to being confronted by police 3 times, asking if we’re feeding the homeless. On Sunday afternoon a family in a red truck came out to hand out blankets to the homeless when Pct 7 came out, questioning the family.

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Pct 7 Officer questions a family handing out blankets to the homeless on January 15, 2017

The weekend prior, a gentrified snitch called the police which led to 5 HPD units questioning whether we were feeding the homeless when we were out there to clean up the Wheeler camp.

15974938_1402434459775333_6010010925891356200_o  (Burnell McCray: Photo Credit)

 

A Latino family, children included, had walked through the Wheeler camp to hand out sandwiches, cold drinks and chips. As the family made their way back, a gentrified snitch stopped the family, scolding them in front of their children advising that they are not allowed to feed the homeless. She was not friendly either. She has been seen driving around the Wheeler camp in a newer model Cadillac and is described as an older white haired white woman. While gentrified snitches are attempting to rid the homeless from the area, a group of activists have enacted their official “Homeless Watch” that has begun. These watches will ensure that our homeless are not mistreated because they are homeless whether it is in a gentrified area or areas where Super Bowl festivities will be taking place. Several Houston police officers have been independently telling several homeless men and women that they will not be allowed to be downtown or in areas near NRG Stadium where the Super Bowl will be held next month. Some officers have stated that the homeless are to stay outside a 3 – 5 mile radius of downtown and NRG. Homeless advocates met with a Sgt Herndon under HPD Assist Chief Troy Finner on Jan 5th who confirmed that no orders were set out for Houston officers to relay such information to the homeless. According to HPD, any officer outlining any rules at this time, are making these claims on their own and are not backed by HPD. We’ve been advised that if or when a time comes that rules will come forward, that we will be made aware of these rules so that we can communicate them to the homeless. Houston Officer Cuffy who works at The Beacon, which is a homeless service located in downtown Houston, was filmed telling a homeless man that if the homeless are downtown at the time of Super Bowl, that they would be going to jail. The man tells the officer, “But you cannot arrest someone just because they are homeless”. Cuffy replies, “You’re right, we can’t. But we can find something else to charge you with.” Because the man in the video is the one who brought this to my attention, is why it is important for me to keep him anonymous, for his safety. The video was very real and very chilling which caused me to initiate a homeless watch and bring together others who would assist in watching and defending those who are defenseless. Homeless watches have already begun in different hotspots around downtown, to NRG Stadium, to Hobby Airport. These watches will continue through the night of the Super Bowl so the gentrified snitches should get themselves ready. The homeless may not be able to stand up for themselves but we’ve stepped in and are quite ready to take on any challenges offered. In the end, is this really about keeping law and order concerning the food ordinance? Or is it the City of Houston who is caving to white money? White money being the gentrified areas creating havoc and those complaining because they are worried about Houston’s image during Super Bowl? I do know that each time I go check on the homeless, I nor anyone else, should be subjected to a cops who’ve been tattled to by a bunch of snobs. Since when did Houston because “that city”?  – END

“Until we begin to deal with mental issues surrounding homelessness (i.e. ptsd from becoming and living homeless on top of possibly having other mental disorders) we will continue to have this problem.” – Shere Dore

Burnell McCray has been photo documenting Houston for over 30-years. He’s sharing his album concerning the Wheeler homeless camp up close and personal. You can see the engagement with the homeless and engagement with the powers that be when police arrive.

https://www.facebook.com/burnell.mccray/media_set?set=a.1402425396442906.1073742028.100000263770122&type=3

***I will be addressing City Council Wednesday morning to discuss the continued harassment by these gentrified snitches and to also question actions led by police towards our homeless lately***

 

 

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Houston Activists Continue Surveying Synthetic Weed Epidemic Targeting Homeless Community

Synthetic marijuana has been a problem over the years in Houston and nationwide. Through mainstream media, the stories are few and far between where it concerns overdoses and serious affects from use of this dangerous “drug” so much that the City of Houston and media didn’t rake real notice to the problem until there were 16 overdoses a week ago at Hermann Park. However, there has been a group of local activists who’ve already been at work, surveying the epidemic, assisting the homeless, gathering information on treatment programs, confronting store locations that sell synthetic weed, calling for medical help when needed, and much more. This group has far more experience with this crisis than city leaders, treatment centers, and local churches.

For the last couple of months, a group of activists from various local groups banded together to fight against this massive problem. “Kush” is the commonly used name however is labeled incorrectly. Kush is a form of real cannabis marijuana and isn’t harmful to anyone who uses it. The name “kush” was adopted by sellers so that it could appeal to users. Some users make the purchase assuming they are buying real marijuana when in reality, they are buying synthetic weed with absolutely no ties to original and real marijuana.

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WHAT IS FAKE KUSH?

First off, again I want to make it clear that the synthetic weed is not in any form of real marijuana. It is crucial that if an individual is buying marijuana from someone, that they know who they are buying from otherwise they could receive synthetic weed and after 1 – 2 puffs, it can cost a person their life. Synthetic marijuana has various names: K2, Spice, Kush, Climax, and Space Cadet just to name a few. Synthetic weed also has levels of potency. Lower levels of potency start at 6x. It climbs to 10x, 15x, 50x, and 100x. Space Cadet contains the highest potency and most likely is the synthetic marijuana used at the time that 16 individuals overdosed at Houston’s Herman Park on June 23rd. The higher the potency, the more likely one is to have constant seizures, vomit, aggressive behavior, body temperatures rise, irregular heart beat whether it increased or decreases the beats per minute, impaired motor skills, paralysis, coma, and even death. The more frequent chemicals involved in the synthetic marijuana is Raid (roach spray), rubbing alcohol, cat nip, and potpourri incense which is sold in packages similar to what is pictured below. The high itself only lasts 10 – 15 minutes. It only costs $1 to purchase a kush blunt compared to a marijuana blunt which runs $5. Synthetic weed is much cheaper to buy and is easily accessible. We see cases where an individual displays aggressive behavior. In those cases, most likely the kush blunt was laced with meth, which causes their aggression and can put others in danger. Though we are always on guard because of the laced drug, for the most part we generally see individuals on 6x – 10x levels of potency. Most will sleep it off for 20 – 30 minutes then be right back up like nothing happened. Most times the person will not remember what took place while they were high.

ER visits to local hospitals since Sept 2015 drug count:

  1. Kush                            1396
  2. Alcohol                         545
  3. Script Drugs               337
  4. Cocaine/Crack          203
  5. Marijuana                   126
  6. Opiates                        113
  7. Amphetamine           109
  8. Heroin                            95
  9. Ecstasy/MDMA            33
  10. Inhalants                      19
  11. LSD                                  12
  12. GHB                                   7
  13. Ketamine                        5

 

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MASSIVE DRUG BUST AND EMERGENCY PERSONNEL

On May 16, 2016, the DEA and HPD seized 9.5 TONS of synthetic marijuana from a drug ring which included a professor from the University of Houston. The DEA arrested 16 people linked to the drug ring which should have crippled the sale of “kush” for a few weeks at least however that isn’t the case. On May 23, 2016 we saw the use of “kush” jump in record numbers. EMT’s/Houston Fire Dept are called all day, every day to assist with individuals who react to “kush”. This takes away from other emergencies taking place in the community. Not to mention it desensitizes EMT workers who have to see this multiple times a day. For example, the evening of June 26, 2016, an older man was seen staggering on Lamar Street in downtown Houston. He managed to get back on the sidewalk then fell onto his side as he began to have seizures. We contacted 911 to obtain medical assistance in the event that this individual could go into cardiac arrest. EMT’s arrived on the scene where one worker, Erica Czyz, was seen using her radio communicator to literally dig into the ribs of this man, yelling at him to wake up. She did not display gentle use of the object as she continued to push her radio harder, digging further into his ribs, once again demanding that he wake up. One worker was overheard laughing and saying “Y’all should take him to Southeast Memorial hospital so that way we won’t have to deal with this problem for a couple of days.” In other words, move kush users further outside the city so that no one is bothered with another user. That is not the answer.  We continue to request the faithful diligence and professionalism of our EMT workers/fire fighters which we see so often.

We are currently looking into why synthetic marijuana has hit the streets in mass quantity after Houston Police and the DEA obtained 9.5 tons of synthetic weed back on May 16, 2016. Five weeks ago (specifically 5/23/16) the use of “kush” drastically rose. Synthetic marijuana was seized awfully close to the time the quantity of “kush” in massive doses hit the streets, specifically targeting the homeless community in the downtown area 6 months before Houston hosts the Super Bowl. We continue to ask the question: Who is bringing it downtown in such high quantity?

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(For the most part, those who smoke lower levels of potency to kush react in this manner – sitting upright, sleeping off the drug after their 10 – 15 minute high)

HOUSTON POLICE DEALING WITH THE CRISIS

On June 8, 2016 it was a hot Wednesday afternoon. A homeless black male (Mike) who I’ve known for a couple of years appeared with his longtime girlfriend, who I know as well. Both had told me how they spent the majority of their day trying to get on the housing list while also trying to look for a place to stay. Both of them were clearly exhausted from the heat and humidity. If you don’t live in Houston then you don’t know that temps get up to the high 90’s in June with humidity levels over 70% most days. There is no dry heat here. You’re guaranteed to sweat and if you’ve been walking around all day, you’re going to be exhausted the moment you sit down to cool off. That is exactly what happened to this couple after walking around Houston throughout the day. Houston Police Officer Pham, badge# 8193, frequents the library plaza/west end of downtown Houston. He is not liked. Why? Because Officer Pham has a history of being aggressive and has every intention of baiting individuals into an argument so that he can arrest them and take them to jail. Several people have claimed that they saw Pham “kick a homeless woman” as she was laying down one afternoon. Outside of his behavior with the homeless, Pham is combative with homeless advocates. He’ll attempt to argue when he realizes he’s being filmed. Pham has forced us to film him because his professionalism is lacking and he’s known to be aggressive in his personal dealings with the homeless community.

On this particular day, Pham along with two reps from the Sobering Center approached Mike who was leaned up on his girlfriend as he sat on a ledge. He was questioned several times whether he was on “kush” or whether he “intoxicated”. Many times he cited that he was neither kushed out or intoxicated. One of the reps asked him 5 times whether he wanted to be medically evaluated. Each of those times Mike said “no”. At this time it’s clear he’s not high nor is he drunk. Anyone with experience, especially in the drug abuse field, could see that Mike was fine. Not every person who is resting is high or drunk. This is when inquiries turn into harassment. I began filming the incident. How many times does a man have to say “no” to get another to leave him alone? Officer Pham asked for his ID which Mike questioned his reasons. Pham refused to give one, just continued to request his ID. Pham began to ask additional questions while the Sobering Center reps are standing near, watching, not saying anything. Mike was clearly upset, feeling his rights were being violated. By that time I advised Mike to not give any consent to searches nor answer anymore questions without an attorney since it was clear Pham had no intention of backing off Mike. Officer Pham pulled out his handcuffs and detained the man immediately after my suggestion. After Mike was placed in the car, he gave his name which came back clear – no warrants. He was free to go after. The very next day the very same man was done the very same way by Officer Pham, this time without the Sobering Center reps. At what point is this considered “helping the homeless” or attempting to combat the kush crisis? Everything that took place on June 8 screamed violation of civil rights. It is not illegal to lay your head on your girlfriends shoulder. In fact, it is not illegal to rest at all. However, Houston officers are using this as leverage to stop and harass homeless that are not intoxicated in any way.

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(Officer Pham detains a homeless man after wrongly profiling and harassing the man)

On June 10, 2016 Officer Caster, badge# 8746, profiled a black Muslim male who was sitting on a ledge at the downtown library plaza. She too assumed he was intoxicated. The same reps from the Sobering Center came and assessed the man. like the others, he fell victim to untrained officers. The man was cleared by Caster and free to leave. Moments later, Officer Pham appeared and became combative when he saw that we were filming the incident. That same night at 9:08 p.m., Officer Pham accused three homeless men of jaywalking across the street in the downtown area although the men had the signal to “walk” when the light changed. Officer Pham arrested one of the men when he asked why was it that Pham was harassing him all the time. Pham uttered “I’ll show you” then placed the homeless man under arrest claiming he was jaywalking the street.

On June 10, 2016 at 7:12 p.m., not long after Officer Caster and Officer Pham left the plaza, Officer Hill, badge# 4879 appeared profiling two homeless men. He claimed they looked intoxicated when both men were resting on their arm, waiting for the 8 p.m. food sharing to begin. Had he engaged the two men appropriately, talking to them a couple of minutes, he would have learned that neither were intoxicated or high. Officer Hill demanded their ID’s which each complied. Hill returned their ID’s after the men were cleared (no warrants) then went back to his car and began to take photo’s of us who were standing out there witnessing further violation of a individuals civil rights. It is clear that common sense is lacking with these officers. This cannot be reduced to a lack of training. To demand ones ID for merely sitting down is wrong. To constantly do this to the homeless community because officers are allowed to get away with it downright shows these officers as being bullies. Picking on people who cannot defend themselves.

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(Officer Hill profiles two homeless men in downtown Houston)

MAYOR TURNER’S PLAN TO TACKLE THE KUSH EPIDEMIC

June 30, 2016 Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner called a press conference to give a plan of action in effort to handle the kush issues. The press conference was held at the Hermann Park pavilion, right where 16 individuals were taken to the ER from an overdose the week prior. Aside from the Mayor, the interim HPD Chief of Police, Metro Police, Pastor Rudy from St John’s Church, Mr. Kincaid from the Sobering Center were just a few who spoke in front of local media and concerned homeless advocates.

Mayor Turner pushes his plan to combat the use of synthetic marijuana on June 30, 2016
Mayor Turner pushes his plan to combat the use of synthetic marijuana on June 30, 2016

Mayor Turner expressed that there is a problem in Houston with “kush”. However, because Turner and others involved in the press conference are not knowledgeable of the details of this epidemic, their plans to combat the crisis leave lots of room for error. Mayor Turner wanted to make it clear that the City of Houston wanted to partner with other medical facilities in effort to get real treatment to those who are addicted to kush. Unfortunately, there are no immediate treatment facilities or programs for kush users at this time. In fact, state funding doesn’t even recognize kush as a drug which requires treatment. The Mayor announced the deployment of 175 Houston police officers, many being pulled from desk jobs and investigators, being placed on the street to assist with the “kush clean up effort”. I specifically asked the interim Chief of Police whether these officers would be trained. I was never given a direct answer. Seeing the officers were being deployed the following day, it is clear these officers are not going to be trained to deal with anyone using kush, including the homeless who will be profiled due to the stereotype. Bottom line: If an officer comes across an individual who is high on kush, the best he/she can do for that person is take them to the Sobering Center which the person will spend the night to sober up then be released the very next day just to go out and do it again. There is no real help right now. Calling 175 cops to the streets who are untrained is a recipe for disaster. One must take a humane approach no matter how frustrating the situation is. Being compassionate to the persons needs is a requirement. If one lacks people skills and holds little empathy for others, they cannot do this job. We cannot assume all homeless are kush users. While the majority of kush users are located in the downtown area, you can see the map below that pin points other kush hot spots around the city, including the suburbs. Lastly: Who is bringing it downtown? Homeless people aren’t transporting massive amounts of synthetic marijuana to the downtown region.

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(Left: The red signifies kush hot spots. Right: Green dots indicate how many kush users in that area visited an ER facility. You can see in downtown Houston alone, there were 347 cases since Sept. 2015)

There is a lot of work to be done here. None of us have all the answers however we need to be smart about this epidemic. Addressing the needs of mental disorders, depression, PTSD, and much more is crucial at this point. Whether Houston have the capacity to balance mental health still remains unknown. Until we begin to understand that using drugs of any sorts mainly focuses of embedded mental pain that is being masked by drug or alcohol use, we are going to continue to see drug use rise. Of all the homeless individuals I’ve worked with over the last 5 years, 95% of those I’ve spoken with have some sort of mental issue they are dealing with that has been left untreated and prohibits them from moving forward to get housing or use resources offered to help some of the homeless. The majority of homeless I’ve interviewed over the years do not want to be homeless however one should recognize that a form of PTSD takes place when one is thrusted to the streets to survive day to day, minute by minute because the streets are not always safe. The majority of those smoking kush do it to escape the reality which they call “hell”. We truly have no idea what it is like to be on the streets day after day, trying to survive. Many assume help is there but that is not always the case. For example, if you’re a healthy person between the ages of 25 – 64 with no real mental or physical disabilities, or not a parent with children, nor a military veteran, you can be on a housing list for years. In Houston to be placed on a housing list, one must get a homeless letter stating they are homeless and be on the streets for one year before they go on that housing list. Shelters are not the answer either. Shelters in Houston are deplorable. Aside from bed bug infestations and TB, food is extremely inadequate and the volunteers who staff these shelters lack any real compassion or empathy. When a person is forced to a shelter, their dignity is all one has left however too often many of the volunteers strip that from the person as well. I always challenge others to volunteer at the local city shelters to see for themselves just how bad it really is and why it is that so many would rather live on the streets rather than a shelter. This is going to take a lot of us to stay committed if we want to truly resolve the epidemic. If you want to get involved in assisting the homeless in any way, please contact us at homelessadvocateprogramhoutx@gmail.com

 

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Houston’s Homeless Targeted By Community and Houston Police

Petra Olvera (courtesy of Change.org) is heading an anti-homeless petition
Petra Olvera (courtesy of Change.org) is heading an anti-homeless petition

Houston, TX – By now many of you have heard that earlier this week, a bright young child named Josue Flores was brutally stabbed 22 times as he was walking home from school. This happened just two blocks from his home. This came as a shock to the community Josue lived in as well as the city. The community was outraged – how can a person randomly walk up to an innocent child and murder him. Houston Police were quick to make an arrest of 31 year old Che Calhoun who “seemed” to fir the description of one eyewitness. However, describing a black man, 6 feet tall, age ranging from 25 – 30, weighing 200 lbs could identify a pool of black men if one is unable to tell one black man apart from the other, which seems to be the case with the eyewitness, Houston Police, and the District Attorney’s office. The DA’s office dropped the murder charges against Calhoun Friday, citing that Calhoun was able to prove an alibi that put him in Pearland at the time little Josue was murdered. Evidence was able to prove his whereabouts. Houston Police and the DA severely screwed up on this case. The murderer has had time to leave town while police, prosecutors, media, and the public were focused on Calhoun. HPD, along with the lead detective had a press conference on Friday morning explaining why Calhoun was not their suspect while trying to save face on their massive failure. An apology to Calhoun was never tendered meanwhile after his release, he will be a marked man, reputation ruined entirely. Careless actions led by Houston Police and District Attorney Devon Anderson’s office have been plentiful. Even after the epic fail led by Houston Police, the interim Houston Police Chief Martha Montalvo continued to paint Calhoun as a criminal rather than fessing up and issuing a public apology.

COMMUNITY BACKLASH AGAINST THE HOMELESS

By Friday afternoon, a anti-homeless petition started by Petra Olvera asks the public to sign her petition which she intends to send to Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee’s office, demanding the closure of the Salvation Army located off N. Main, just north of downtown while completely defaming the homeless community as a whole, not on an individual basis.

The "explanation" of the anti-homeless petition (1)
The “explanation” of the anti-homeless petition (1)
Continued anti-homeless rhetoric (2)
Continued anti-homeless rhetoric (2)
Continued anti-homeless rhetoric (3)
Continued anti-homeless rhetoric (3)

It is clear that Ms. Olvera and her supporters have spent little to no time with the homeless community. It was later determined that Calhoun was not homeless however, Ms. Olvera continues to push her agenda, using a murdered child as reason to target the homeless, using hateful assumptions one moment then the next inserting “God” in her post. Anyone who considers themselves to be of God, should never attempt to oppress those who cannot defend themselves, especially when it comes to the poor. What makes matters worse are the following comments left by anti-homeless supporters expressing stereotypes, fueled anger, assumptions, and more.

Without all the facts, people continue to spread their hate of the homeless community in Houston
Without all the facts, people continue to spread their hate of the homeless community in Houston
More comments spreading hate of the homeless
More comments spreading hate of the homeless
Comments left on the anti-homeless petition judges the homeless as a whole
Comments left on the anti-homeless petition judges the homeless as a whole

Combating issues of addiction and mental illnesses will not be fixed by shutting down the very services needed for the homeless community through the Salvation Army. Services they provide include free meals, housing homeless in their facility, funding homes for homeless who are now off the streets, counseling, medical needs, clothing, and monies donated by Salvation Army to other organizations who are helping the public. Maybe Ms. Olvera and her supporters could focus their anger and energies on how we can better the situation rather than making it worse. Shutting down the Salvation Army will only create more problems for that community and that is why I know Ms. Olvera has absolutely zero experience with our homeless. Diverting energies into pushing for programs that deal with addiction and mental illnesses is a step in the right direction. Not trying to banish and close an organization that certainly does more good for the homeless. If community members are so upset and want change, why aren’t they asking for more patrol units in their area? Why are police off the hook in this case? Laws are already in effect that deal with crime. If crime is on the rise in the area, this is when you call on police or even community watch dogs to assist. What about the homeless who are truly doing all they can to get services by Salvation Army? I’m guessing they don’t matter much to Ms. Olvera and the others who hate the homeless community.

HOUSTON POLICE BEGIN TARGETING BLACK HOMELESS MEN DOWNTOWN HOUSTON

As a homeless advocate, I spend a good amount of time with the homeless community each week over the last 4.5 years. I’m not paid for what I do. Everything is done because I truly care about our homeless and want to do everything I can to assist where I’m able. This includes fighting for the homeless since so many are unable to defend or fight for themselves. As I arrived at a homeless hot spot Friday afternoon, several black men approached me, letting me know that Houston Police requested to see their ID, some were patted down, while the majority were clueless to why this was taking place. What’s worse is that many of the black men didn’t fit the description implied by the police. One gentleman is in his 60’s however his ID was requested with the excuse of Josue’s murder. Some of the men were older than 30 and many of them were much shorter than 6 feet. Houston Police were up and down Main Street in downtown Houston questioning nearly every homeless black man they saw. Police were also questioning homeless black men at Tranquility Park, Houston City Hall grounds, the downtown library plaza, and over by Wheeler St, south of downtown. If a witness accused the wrong man, then credibility is shot. Eyewitness accounts are highly incorrect most times. Is this a case of cops truly looking for Josue’s murderer or intimidation tactics led by police to make it seem as if they’re doing their job? Houston police have been known to harass the homeless over the years for little to no reason at all. It still happens today. If a cop is unable to identify a black man who is 6 feet tall, age ranging from 25 – 30 years, 200 lbs, by pulling random black men who vary in age, height, age, and weight outside the identifying criteria, then we need to have a serious discussion with the police chief. Due to an assumption that the murderer was “homeless” we now have community efforts to hurt rather than help the homeless and police who seem desperate to find a murderer. Meanwhile the murderer is probably long gone since the police and prosecutor took the word of one lone person who couldn’t describe one black man to the next.

A message from a homeless woman confirms continued harassment led by Houston Police of homeless black men
A message from a homeless woman confirms continued harassment led by Houston Police of homeless black men

IN ENDING

Homeless are people too. I have been echoing these sentiments for years because society tends to dismiss the homeless, using stereotypes to fuel their hate and discrimination to further oppress. All that many have left is their dignity. A community and a police department are looking to strip dignity from undeserving people because of careless assumptions. We will always have chronic homelessness. We will always have criminals. There is no difference between a person living in a community who is a criminal and a homeless criminal. I’m certain that not all criminal acts that have taken place in the community were done by a homeless man or woman. I’m sure some criminal acts were caused by an individual who might have lived or have ties to that community. We let the police handle those matters where it concerns a non-homeless criminal, so why now is the entire homeless community being judged and ridiculed now? It seems Ms. Olvera, her supporters, and the police that arrested the wrong man/are harassing black homeless men downtown need to have a reality check, gain some compassion,  obtain common sense and possibly check their facts before proceeding against the homeless. It would do all of them some good to spend time, REAL TIME, with some of the homeless. A good majority of homeless are not addicts, drunks, criminals, etc. Criminal behavior is not led by a race, class, gender, or whatever title you choose, but led by individuals on a human level!

In the spirit of countering the anti-homeless petition, I’ve started a petition in support of our homeless community. This to show that many of us are not okay with labeling the homeless in a negative manner and that we do not support cutting services to homeless that are in true need of help. Please link here: https://www.change.org/p/community-we-support-houston-s-homeless

We will be linking with other homeless advocates, homeless orgs, and local homeless charities to assist in countering Ms. Olvera’s attempted action moving forward.

 

Mayor Parker’s Real War on the Homeless

Roughly 100 - 200 individuals have participated with a food sharing group located in downtown Houston.
Roughly 100 – 200 individuals have participated with a food sharing group located in downtown Houston.

 

July 2014 will mark two years since the City of Houston implemented one of the most unpopular city ordinances in Houston’s history: the Anti-Food Sharing Ordinance. In this ordinance, groups and individuals are not allowed to feed 5 or more people in a public space without special permission from Mayor Annise Parker’s office. Failure to follow the ordinance can land a person with a $2,000 fine and/or jail time. This ordinance was petitioned by 33,000 Houston voters and followed by hundreds of homeless advocates, volunteers and individuals who pleaded with Mayor Parker and City Council to throw out this inhumane ordinance. My personal dealings with Mayor Parker was usually followed by the rolling of her eyes at me and sarcastic statements she’d offer as a rebuttal to my plea. It always amazed me that a person of her profession and a person who was supposed to be for the people, would never answer me directly. Her manners were very high school like. Fast forward to 2014 where the anti-food sharing ordinance is still a hot topic and a discussion which Mayor Parker cannot escape. Mayor Parker was interviewed on NPR Houston Matters on 3/31/2014 which questions were asked of the Mayor concerning the feeding ordinance. Below is a rundown of her responses and rebuttals about the ordinance. I will insert my feedback in parenthesis so that we can stay on course.

Mayor Parker was interviewed on NPR (Houston Matters – 3/31/14)

1) She claims that sharing food with the homeless keeps them homeless and “encourages” homelessness…  At the same time that she claims to want to improve options for nourishment for homeless in the city.

(Let’s look at improving the nourishment for the homeless in the city. Is this why Star of Hope Women and Children’s Shelter was known to serve inadequate foods which included undercooked rice, undercooked chicken, expired canned goods, day old bread and milk that was on the verge of expiring. Certainly not milk with an expiration date weeks away like you’d get at your local grocery store. Here you have the Director of Star of Hope whose salary is over a quarter of a million dollars annually but we cannot provide healthy and well-cooked food to those who are in need? Not to mention the MILLIONS IN FEDERAL FUNDING that is offered to homeless initiatives. Mayor Parker has not produced one document that would indicate that food sharing among volunteer groups and/or individuals had gotten any homeless individual sick or hospitalized. In fact the issue was brought up directly to the Mayor by myself and a few volunteers requesting the city’s data that would back up the Mayor’s claim. To date, Mayor Parker has yet to produce evidence that there is a nourishment concern when it comes to volunteer food sharing groups or individuals. I strongly recommend that if Mayor Parker is truly concerned about nourishment of the homeless, then she might want to start with city shelters. She’s been made aware of the conditions at Star of Hope. She’s yet to check on those conditions at that shelter to date. Is Mayor Parker truly concerned about nourishment of the homeless?)

2) She continues to claim that food sharing groups (she identified churches and FNB (Food Not Bombs) — specifically FNB, the only group identified by name) are being redundant, and wasting resources and overlapping efforts while others go hungry because we do not submit to City coordination – the mechanism for which she never specified.

(Interesting take Mayor Parker. Many homeless that I encounter tell me that they don’t usually get to eat until food sharing groups or individuals come out and donate food to those in need. The homeless would rather starve than to go to city shelters and eat. I think that is a huge red flag for the city. I’ve also asked Mayor Parker for data to back up her statement about the wasted resources brought on by volunteer groups like Food Not Bombs and she has none. Go figure!)

3) She completely sidesteps First Amendment issues of freedom of assembly and religion.

(I think this statement should stand alone. It’s obvious and evident.)
4) She claims to have reduced homelessness in Houston by 25%. Details not specified.

(Now this is something that really boils my blood. First off, the city implements “Homeless Counts” annually in collaboration with the Homeless Coalition. In 2013, myself and a rather decently sized group wanted to see for ourselves whether this homeless count was truly taking place or was it an effort by the Mayor’s Office and the Homeless Coalition to alter some numbers on paper for the sake of millions of dollars in federal funding. Well, myself and two others went to the locations downtown and found no evidence of a count taking place. Other chimed in later in the night from Southwest Houston to South Houston to North Houston that at those locations that the Homeless Coalition provided, homeless counts were not proceeding there either. I was also made aware by a volunteer worker of the Salvation Army that a lot of data obtained is data these shelters have in place already. Information that can be old and/or altered. I never once saw one person initiating a homeless count and neither did my comrades. The Mayor concludes that she was able to bring homelessness down by 25%. When I learned of this “new information” last year, I consistently asked Mayor Parker’s office for evidence of the decrease. To date, Mayor Annise Parker’s office had NOT been able to provide me with the data… again. I also asked for the data via the Homeless Coalition which I was not given the data as well.)

 

What we have here is a politician (Mayor Parker) dancing around the questions as she famously tends to do when she cannot answer the question honestly. We have a Mayor who likes to recite a lot of assumed “knowledge” of issues concerning the homeless and volunteers/volunteer groups but does not have any hard data to back up her claims. This isn’t a case of a circumstance that became an issue yesterday. This has been an issue for over two years now yet the Mayor cannot submit any actual proof behind what she says. If people pay close attention to politics, then it is easy to see that the bottom line here is money. Big oil companies and builders are located in the downtown area which the city calls the “downtown district”. Face it, no one wants to deal with the pesky homeless person begging passerby’s for money hence now the city has made it illegal to panhandle. No one wants to see a bunch of poor people lining up to eat food made by volunteers hence the reason the city made it illegal to feed the homeless. People don’t want to see homeless people resting on public property hence the reason why the Houston Police Department’s harassment, citations and arrests of the homeless is now at an all-time high. Homeless Advocates like myself and others have become targets of the Houston Police Dept’s harassment and then there are infiltrators who’ve inserted themselves in the lives of well known activists only to issue report backs to the Mayor’s office. This is what we are faced with in Houston today. How great would it be to completely remove the homeless from the downtown region and satisfy “stakeholders” altogether? How can the city make this happen? Easy. Throw a bunch of money into campaigns and add some kickbacks…  In return, the Mayor initiates ludicrous ordinances such as this. Recall I said that this is about money. Profit before people. Making money off the poor. All the above specifies the obvious and through today, Mayor Annise Parker still cannot issue honest feedback on why she is attacking the homeless.

Information gathered by an interview on Houston Matters 3/31/2014

http://www.houstonmatters.org/segments/segment-a/2014/03/31/mayor-parker-answers-your-questions

Food Not Bombs – Houston – Volunteers Needed!

December 11, 2013 – Houston Texas: Food Not Bombs – Houston has been feeding those in need for over 19-years. It is because of local volunteers that this has been possible. The group usually serves anywhere from 50 to 150 people. In some cases, FNB has served over 200-individuals. The holiday season is among us which means volunteers are or will be out of town. We have also seen Houston recently hit with the flu which has greatly impacted our volunteers as well.

This is your time to step up and help! It is as easy as showing up. We recommend individuals not bring food their first time joining us so that one can get a feel for how FNB functions. If you are intent on bringing a dish, please keep in mind that FNB is a vegetarian food sharing.

The cold temps have also impacted the homeless. We are requesting coats, blankets, gloves, mittens, winter hats, socks, shoes and sweaters be donated. You can also donate casual clothing if you have the means.

Date/Time: Monday, Wednesday, Friday’s at 8 p.m. Sunday at 7 p.m.
Location: Downtown Houston Library (Courtyard Area)
521 Lamar
Houston, TX 77002
(Parking is free)

For more information about Food Not Bombs, please link here:
www.foodnotbombs.com

Look forward to seeing you there!

The City of Houston responds to homeless man ticketed for searching for food in a garbage bin

Mr James Kelly was issued a ticket last week for “Disturbing the contents of a garbage can in the downtown business district.” This is a story that has gone viral, worldwide. People as far as the United Kingdom, have expressed their outrage concerning the Houston Police Department and Mayor Parker. The community has rallied together to show support for 44 year old Kelly who has only been in Houston a short time when he was issued a citation. Kelly admits that there has been a few times that an unknown individual buys donuts and intentionally discards them into the garbage bin located at Herman Square Park, which is a public city park near City Hall. Kelly said he has been able to enjoy the donuts a couple of times and that morning, he was rummaging through the bin, in the hopes to find the donuts that this good Samaritan leaves behind. This is when Office Richards approached Kelly and issued the ticket that has the public in shock and upset with the city.

City of Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland said he understands the public’s outrage but is defending his officer for issuing the ticket.

“I certainly understand the sentiments, but we still have to protect the homeless and we want them to be safe. There are certainly many places that provide food so people don’t have to dig through a trash receptacle,” said McClelland. He continues to say, “When someone is getting food out of the trash, it could be contaminated. We don’t want anyone to get sick or die.”

However, in early 2012, hundreds of citizens flocked to weekly city council meetings concerning the anti-food sharing ordinance where Mayor Parker and council members argued that they implemented the ordinance for food safety concerns. When Parker and council were asked repeatedly for evidence that would back up their claim, Parker and council admitted that there had been no testing nor reports that homeless fell ill due to inadequate food. If the city hasn’t initiated a test study on homeless who get sick due to tainted food by charitable giving, more than likely the city has not initiated test studies for tainted food left in garbage bins. The city’s excuse that they are concerned that the homeless will get sick or even “die” is just that, an excuse. It is election season where Mayor Parker looks to win her 3rd term. Any comment led by city officials concerning Kelly and this unknown garbage digging ordinance will result in the city acting like they are “concerned” however, actions speak louder than words.

Originally, the city had no comment the day following the public outcry concerning Kelly’s citation. After the city did some digging to try to save their image, they city came back stating that there was a charitable food sharing that was held downtown, around the same time that Kelly had received his ticket. But, how would Kelly have known about this food sharing? In meeting with the Houston Homeless Coalition last year, several advocates attended and asked specific questions concerning information hubs, that would certainly assist the homeless every day from where they can receive medical help, food, showers, shelters, housing but to date, the city has yet to set up these hubs in public places nor have they made these items available to homeless advocates and food sharing charities. How would Kelly have known that there was a food sharing in downtown Houston since these hubs have been denied to all involved? You would think that if Mayor Parker and the city leaders truly cared for the homeless, they would be working overtime to see that their needs are met in ALL WAYS. All these avenues have been brought up to the city in assisting the homeless and to date, Mayor Parker and the city continues to ignore advocates.

Days following the Kelly citation, the Houston Police Officers’ Union has stepped in and made a public statement.

Ray Hunt, president of the Houston Police Officers’ Union, said tickets for violations of the ordinance are written only in response to complaints that garbage has been removed and left outside of trash containers.

“I know on the face of it, it sounds very cruel,” the union leader said, stressing that most police officers would not cite someone for simply taking food from a dumpster.

“It’s not officers being inhumane,” Hunt said. “It’s police officers responding to citizens’ complaints about someone removing garbage from their garbage can, and leaving it on the ground. It’s creating a mess.”

It seems that HPD and the Union is working feverishly to clear themselves of their tarnished image. Citizens who may not be involved in activism or advocating for the less fortunate, may not be aware that there are already separate ordinances in place for the concern listed by Ray Hunt. Had Kelly littered after rummaging through the garbage bin, wouldn’t the citation indicate “littering” as well? Kelly has strongly implied that he never let a piece of garbage touch the ground and that he was merely sifting the contents when Officer Richards approached him. The citation was issued at 9:30 a.m. Kelly was located at a public park. It is safe to say that several people tend to leave garbage laying around the park area. In fact, littering was never the concern in this particular case. However, each time the city addresses the homeless, their top complaints are generally food safety, homeless getting sick and littering. For days, littering has not been a topic until Hunt steps in with a rebuttal to save HPD’s image while defaming Kelly’s.

The attack on the homeless is obvious. From anti-food sharing to citations issued to homeless who are simply looking for food. It seems as if Mayor Parker is not a fan of Houston’s homeless along with council members who stand by her and the Houston Police Department. This citation has citizens furious for two reasons: Bullying the homeless is a “no-no” and the citizens have never heard of the citation until Kelly’s story went viral. HPD and the City of Houston have both indicated that this ordinance is specific to the downtown business district which seems to include garbage bins in public parks, garbage bins and public parks which you and I, the tax payer, pays for.

A spokesman for the Houston Police Department said its officers issue several citations for violations of the ordinance on a weekly basis, while Gwendolyn Goins, spokeswoman for the city municipal courts, said city prosecutors estimate such CITATIONS ARE WRITTEN LESS THAN ONCE A MONTH. As it seems again, HPD is once again, twisting the truth.

Could Officer Richard’s issued a warning to Kelly and let him on his way? Yes. Officer Richard’s did not and since then, the city has been scrambling to point fingers on everyone but themselves. It is time that citizens recognize that fear breeds ignorance. For some reason, the city fears these homeless men and women who have fallen on unfortunate circumstances. This is why the city is working to safeguard themselves and the downtown district from the homeless. These are members of society left out in the cold streets in a city operated by leaders who refuse to appropriately handle their circumstances and would rather smoke them out of the downtown region by favoring the builders and corporate interest rather than working for the citizens of Houston in helping the homeless humanely. This is why 34,000 signatures petitioning the anti-food sharing ordinance went ignored by Mayor Parker. Each voting citizen should be asking themselves right about now, “Should I be voting for a Mayor a 3rd term who has blatantly attacked the homeless in this manner?” It is one very serious question each should be asking during election season. If Mayor Parker is capable of bullying a defenseless group, then she is capable of doing just about anything. It is like the bully who picks on the student in school who is bound to a wheelchair, considered special ed (by district standards) and cannot defend him/herself. Mayor Parker has proven to be no different.

Kelly’s court date is next month and is represented by civil rights attorney, Randall Kallinen who has also been vocal in defending Houston’s homeless and fighting the anti-food sharing ordinance. I will continue to keep you posted as the story continues.

Federal lawsuit filed against the City of Houston concerning the Anti-Sharing Feeding Law passed by Mayor Parker & City Council earlier this year

The Christmas holidays are now over. Several groups have packed up and exited locations in the Houston area where several charitable groups stood for several hours on Christmas day, feeding hundreds of Houston’s needy. This season is much different than seasons in the years past. April 2012, Houston’s Mayor Annise Parker along with council members Jerry Davis, Ellen Cohen, Wanda Adams, Ed Gonzalez, James Rodriguez, Mike Laster, Larry Green, Stephen Costello, Andrew Burks and Melissa Noriega voted in favor of the ordinance that has made it illegal for any one person or more, to feed 6+ people in need of food. Council members Helena Brown, Mike Sullivan, Al Hoang, Oliver Pennington, C.O. Bradford and Jack Christie voted against it.

To date, several Houstonians are in disbelief that this law is in effect. Many more are upset because Mayor Parker has refused to address the 34,000 signatures that were turned over to the City Secretary nearly 4-months ago. Several inquiries have been made to Mayor Parker concerning the petitions and each have been met with silence as Parker continues to ignore the citizens of Houston just as she and council did months before they passed the anti-food sharing ordinance. This year, any group including individuals who wanted to feed the homeless in the city, on public property and was to feed more than 5-individuals, had to do so with Mayor Parker’s written permission, permission that can take weeks to obtain. If you suddenly had the will to serve anyone in need of food and legally share your food, you would have to wait weeks or else face the risk of fines from $500 – $2,000 or even worse, arrest.

Fed up with the waiting game that comes by Mayor Parker’s office, Paul Kubosh along with his family, have filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Houston for violating their Constitutional Right to give, feed, etc. The First Amendment holds religious freedom, freedom of speech, freedom to peacefully assemble and so on in which this lawsuit would generally qualify under federal protection. Houston’s Civil Rights Attorney, Randall Kallinen, is representing the Kubosh family which also includes two high school students who are the son and daughter of Paul Kubosh. The teenagers expressed how blessed they were to have so much and unfortunately so many others do not have the same luxury. In turn, these students give up their free time to feed the homeless on many occasions rather than ignoring the needs of others. However because of this new law, the Kubosh family risks the same fines and arrests that has so many hesitant in giving.

After the law passed, several including myself, flooded city council meetings asking for Parker to respect our right to petition the law by having the city count and verify the signatures. Each council meeting was met with complete arrogance, distain for Houston citizens and without appropriate answers. Several requested that the city allow the voters be allowed to determine whether the law should be reversed. Mayor Parker bluntly said NO, citing that the city didn’t have time to count the signatures when in fact; the city had plenty of time to count and get the ordinance on the ballot. Media silence has since followed this issue. Press conferences have been called as media falls back on the issue. Parker & the city continue to ignore emails requesting feedback on the petition. Many question: Why would she do this?

Simply put, this year Mayor Parker is up for re-election. Parker is looking to save her image. Shortly after Parker survived criticism concerning the feeding ordinance, Mayor Parker was seen on the front page of a local newspaper with a smile on her face, as a homeless veteran stood next to her during a photo op and announcement that through homeless organizations in the Houston area, this vet now had a home. A great save to an unsettling muddy image of a Mayor who could be so heartless to wage war on defenseless hungry people. I expect to see further media blackouts where it concerns this ordinance and I am certain Mayor Parker will utilize the media at her disposal in an effort to wipe up all the dark spots she has concerning her image. While I am not the only person who feels as such, this is about as low as one could go as a politician, picking on the defenseless to satisfy the greed of others.

(Photographs by Burnell McCray)