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