What to do now? Confronting Houston City Council

FNB Feeding Downtown Houston
Children eagerly wait to feed Houston’s homeless (Photo by Burnell McCray)

It’s that time again… time to start attending the weekly City Council meetings held each Tuesday at 2 p.m. 900 Bagby, 2nd Floor (Council Chambers) Houston, TX 77002. After turning in over 34,000 petitioned signatures requesting a reversal to the feeding ordinance passed last April, we are demanding that Mayor Parker & council act quickly in getting the ordinance on the November 2012 election ballot. Since the ordinance passed, as of July 1st it became illegal to feed more than 5-people on ANY property which includes public properties which we tax payers have and are paying for. In order to be allowed to feed, we must get special permission by Mayor Parker otherwise any given person who decides to feed more than 5-individuals can be fined $500 – $2,000 or even be arrested and jailed. Mayor Parker has been quick to blame the charity groups and several volunteers for misinforming the public. However when I openly asked Mayor Parker what she meant by misinforming the public, she never answered my inquiry. I also received feedback in that very same council meeting from Councilman Jerry Davis who serves District B (area surrounding Bush Int Airport) citing that he voted FOR the feeding ordinance due to community meetings held in his district where the public requested he vote as he did. When I personally requested evidence to back up his statement, he agreed to give me the proof I needed. An email was sent the following day to Councilman Davis’ office requesting feedback. To date, I have yet to receive a response from his office, not even an acknowledgement of my request. I feel it is important to hold members of council who fight so hard to be voted in office by us citizens they promise to represent, responsible for their voting methods. In this case, I would like to find out how Davis drew his conclusion on his vote. Did he fold by Mayor Parker who is known to strong arm members of council, did he adhere to special interest groups or is there a political career to be gained should he have sided with these corporations who stand to profit by this law? Council Woman Wanda Adams campaigned using the homeless issues as a way to gain voters by stating that she was going to tackle the issues and work to get the homeless properly cared for but if you were paying close attention in April, you would know Ms. Adams voted for the ordinance as well. A woman who prided herself in looking to help the homeless, holding that as a stepping ground for her campaign surely had no problem adding to the homeless issue. It is well known that Wanda Adams wants to continue her political career in the future. Could she have been bought by special interest groups in order to gain future campaign funding?

Politically corrupt antics will not work in the City of Houston as many volunteers from diverse groups via ethnic, gender, religious, political, sexual orientation, etc, have all come together to fight the city over this law. Houston Democrats are surely not satisfied with Parker. This is when Parker places blame on the individuals who have been vocal in the public. Mayor Parker has never been one who accepts blame for any wrong doing. Her arrogance is very real. Just attend a council meeting and disagree with her. This “my way or the highway” and victim role she plays is quite dramatic on her part and she fails to see that it is hurting her political career. She has even gone as far as to say several individuals have worked feverishly to have her taken out of office. She refuses to realize that it is by her own fault that her political career will crumble. In my opinion, anyone who goes as far as to attack the homeless then place blame on everyone rather than herself, does not deserve to represent Houston. Parker will be up for her 3rd term next year. The public has lashed out and openly revealed that she has lost their support. You would hope by now that Parker would take responsibility but even worse, now that she has the petition signatures, 34,000 voters, she bluntly told those in attendance last week at the council meeting that the ordinance will not make the November ballot. It only took volunteers a few weeks to count and validate the signatures. Why is Mayor Parker dragging her feet?

By now it is obvious that we’re up for a massive fight. Parker refuses to be defeated. The right thing to do should she truly care for the voters is to ensure the ordinance goes on the November ballot. Having over 2-months to do so could possibly save her political career. Unfortunately this would not please the special interest groups who would fund her campaign, as speculated. Activists and volunteers have vowed to attend weekly council meetings until the November election. Should Parker ignore the citizens a second time, then civil rights lawyers are preparing for a lawsuit against the city that would hopefully get an injunction against the feeding law.

All of this is well worth the fight of being able to feed those who want something as simple as a meal. You can help by attending the weekly council meetings. Even if you’re unable to attend each week, even attending and speaking up once is appreciated. This law is not a well supported by the public. Parker is aware of this but continues to ignore the 34,000 individuals who petitioned the law.

Along with the council meetings, there will also be a Community Charrette August 20 – 23rd. This meeting will take place at 9 a.m. in handling the homeless problems with Mayor Parker. The public is welcomed to join. The location is 6300 Irvington, Ste. 502 Houston, TX 77002. Meanwhile the homeless feedings have continued well after the law became effective July 1st and will continue to do so until this law is overturned. If you would like to get involved, please email freetofeed2012@gmail.com or feel free to attend council meetings and/or the Charrette.

Efforts continue to stop the feeding ordinance as 34,000 petition signatures are personally turned over to Mayor Parker’s office

A press conference was held on August 13th in the City Hall lobby as Paul Kubosh, Nick Cooper and Randall Kallinen address the media over new information surfacing over Houston’s unpopular feeding ordinance. Several volunteers feverishly counted and verified all the petitions signed by Houston voters. The results: 34,000 signatures gained. The Kubosh brothers were known for fronting the red light camera petition and was able to get the signatures needed in order to get the voters to make the final decision as the law was placed on a ballot. Voters had decided to have the cameras turned off. The feeding ordinance is now the hot topic. While the July 1st deadline to turn in the petitions of at least 20,000 signatures came and went, unable to meet that deadline, the effort is far from over. A handful of volunteers personally walked the 34,000 signatures and delivered them to the City Secretary.

As the press conference was held, it was obvious that our local media was MIA. Coverage of the events unfolding has been minimal although each media outlet such as ABC 13, Fox 26, Channel 2 News, KHOU 11 among other more visiable medias were nowhere to be found although invited to attend the press conference. Coincidence? It has been rumored that Parker has recently had local major media pulled from covering this all too important issue. Paul Kubosh reminded the public that this feeding ordinance is a grassroots effort. Individuals of various political background have come together to overturn this law. This ordinance is not sitting well with Democratic voters, the very same party Parker is representing. To silence any media from making Mayor Parker appear as if she is not serving the citizens, has been a key effort in keeping voters on her side. The “what you don’t know, won’t hurt you” theory is the game. However there are a a few remaining journalist who haven’t been intimidated or strong armed by Mayor Parker’s recent antics. At this point of Mayor Parker’s career, it is imparative for voters to know just who they are dealing with as Parker is up for her 3rd term come November 2013. Should the city employ a mayor and council members who seemingly bully those who are destitute?

Meanwhile, the feedings continue multiple times a week. Unfortunately due to the ordinance, other charitable feeding groups have dropped out from public feedings due to intimidation, as Food Not Bombs Houston volunteer Nick Cooper, expresses to the public while adding that the lines have quadrupled in size at the FNB feedings because the other groups fear the hefty $500 – $2,000 or even arrest. This means that more homeless will go without meals on a day to day basis because prior to the law, these groups worked hand in hand.

How can you help? Call the city office at 832-393-1100 and ask to get on docket to address your Mayor and council members. A meeting is being held today at 2:00 p.m. at City Hall: 900 Bagby Houston, TX 77002.

Mayor Parker continues to ignore questions & discussions over the new feeding law

Top photo: Dozens of people are fed a healthy & hot meal outise city hall after Mayor Parker makes it illegal to feed the homeless.
Bottom photo: Kids help feed the homeless as they prove that it’s better to give rather than to take away.
(Photographer: Burnell McCray)

“Illegal Feeding” continues in spite of Mayor Parker’s unpopular feeding ordinance passage. Houston’s feeding ordinance was voted on April 4, 2012 and became law as of July 1, 2012. What does this law mean? The ordinance prevents charitable feeding for more than 5-people otherwise those individuals who feed Houston’s hungry can be given a ticket which holds a fine varing between $500 – $2,000 or even worse, can be arrested. When dealing with Houston’s police department, no one person can ever know which way this will go. Some Houston officers have come forward and stated that even if ordered, they have no intent on giving citations or arresting citizens for feeding a hungry group. One officer came forward however asked that I give him an alias to prevent any backlash so we will call him Brandon. I openly asked Brandon whether he would arrest anyone who participated in charitable feeding: “I am a God fearing man. I go to church each Sunday. I morally cannot worship God then turn around and arrest a citizen for feeding people who are hungry.” While we know HPD has been looked at negatively in recent years, it is safe to say that many officers are beginning to step forward and take career risks over this new law. Brandon continues, “I am prepared to deal with whatever comes my way if that time should come but know that I will not side with Mayor Parker on this law. It is ridiculous!”

On July 1, after the law became effective, the feeding continued at downtown Houston. The evening of the feeding, over 140-hungry people were served a hot and healthy meal. Food Not Bombs is a nationwide organization focused on feeding those in need of a good meal. Several major cities have recently passed food ordinances that would prevent groups like Food Not Bombs from feeding those in need. The media was conducting interviews however as these stories ran on the late night news, a quick clip of the feeding was shown but certainly didn’t offer any real insight to the public. We would later learn that the media had been asked to pull back by the Mayors office and not cover these gifts of charity or what we call being humanitarian which Mayor Parker lacks. The second Sunday of the considered “illegal feeding” FNB counted over 99-people in the beginning stages as the line continued to grow. When one comes to a homeless feeding, you immediately notice women, men and children quietly standing in line, hesitant to smile, the look of concern in their eyes that they don’t want to be looked down upon. The fear of where they will sleep for the night clearly weighs heavily on their minds. As these hot, healthy meals were served I saw eyes light up, worries turn into smiles, laughter amongst strangers and most of all, a level of comfort in that moment that is indescribable. FNB isn’t like the Houston homeless shelters who shove religion on these individuals while dehumanizing them and citing rules that make these shelters feel more like prison. FNB truly makes an effort to show compassion, love, sharing and the will to take risks of arrests or citations. “I don’t know how the Mayor can live with herself,” says one homeless man who calls himself Frank. He continues on to say, “I don’t trust our people (city leaders) because they don’t care if we eat or not. If it wasn’t for these people (FNB) then I would not have eaten today.”

America used to be a free country and once cared about their fellow man. However little by little, we are seeing our city and national leaders take away basic human needs. Mayor Parker arrogantly points the finger at the those who oppose the feeding ordinance by stating that we wrongly convince individuals of the law by changing it to our opinion rather than what it really is. Interstingly enough, several people have openly asked her blunt questions about the feeding and Mayor Parker does the typical political stance: dodging the question and turning the discussion off focus. I personally would like to know when the last time it was that Mayor Parker literally took time out of her schedule to sit down and converse with a homeless man? I can guarantee you that if Mayor Parker doesn’t have something to gain, she will refuse participation or acknowlegment. It was back in January when Mayor Parker finally decided to visit with Occupy Houston. Sporting her neon yellow heavy weight coat, she definitely caught the eyes of several occupiers. However only those members who “looked the part” were allowed to bypass her security team and personally speak with her. I was lucky enough to be groomed that morning but some of my co-occupiers were turned away because they were in tattered clothing, their hair was messy and were not what she would consider a normal looking citizen. After spending nights on end at Tranquility park in protest of corporate greed over human need, these men as highly intelligent as they are, were not allowed to speak to their local leader. One must begin to wonder who she truly serves?

We activist had all come up with solutions for each issue that Parker and Rodriguez presented to the people. It was poor excuse making on Parker’s part. First it was a food safety concern, next was the trash problem and lastly it was a trespassing issue. Mayor Parker flip flopped more than a fish out of water and refused to listen to the voters. What really counts for Mayor Parker? I think the answers come by those businesses and local shelters who were given the ability to speak at city council meetings while Parker had the opposing citizens and groups against the bill, shifted to last on the council agenda in airing our grievances. Ask Mayor Parker about these special interest groups and what each of them stands to gain by passing such a ridiculous law. Ask yourself why it is that Star of Hope shelter so strongly supports the bill. I’m sure the CEO making over $200k annually has a lot to lose if his shelter loses people who are the reasons why these places receive astronaumical donations from various energy companies, the Bush’s, not to mention the money they save by the food donations only to serve the homeless undercooked expired foods that an animal wouldn’t even eat. But here is Mayor Parker, attacking charity groups who give from the heart. Not giving because they stand to make their $3,000 a week paychecks. So when you hear Mayor Parker give the public some bleeding heart speech about how unfortunate it is that us being the 4th largest city in dealing with the homelessness and how she is trying to rectify the problem, just remember, actions speak louder than words. She is only worsening the situation by creating this law. Parker has worked feverishly to quiet the media including myself as I was “released” from the Examiner a few weeks ago where a special call was placed to the higher authorities that had my credentials ceased immediately. It is no secret that Parker assumed my last article that focused on the feeding ordinance was more an effort to have Parker impeeched from office. As honored as I was to hear such a thing, I also thought it was pathetic that Mayor Parker thinks of herself as so worthy to waste such energies on such a heartless human being as herself. Parker, Adams (who campaigned and assured the public of her will to focus on the homeless problem. Nice job Ms. Adams. Way to handle the issue) and Rodriguez have all signed their own political death certificates back in April 2012. When you pick on the helpless, when you bully the meek, what could one expect? It is unfortunate that even as this last weekend passed, Parker continued to refuse to openly answer and discuss the feeding law while she attended Whole Foods on Kirby where the public was invited to have their 3-minutes with the Mayor. Parker.

I refuse to allow our corrupted politicians skate by without openly holding each one accountable. Her itty bitty arrogant eyes and fake smile is not intimidating to those of us who will continue to fight the city head on concerning this bill. The politics as usual is not working anymore. While many of us, occupiers or not, cannot make it to D.C. to implement change, we can start locally and spead it out. For now all we can do is make the public aware any way we can since such great actions to silence the media has been taken. Guess what Parker: the people are watching, the people care and some of us have the resources and all the time in the world to make the public aware of your wron g doings. It is time to take responsibilty.