Tag Archives: Homeless feeding

Homeless war veteran issued a citation for looking for food in a garbage can

“What?!?!” “How did that happen?” “Is that even a law?” “I have never heard of that ordinance!”

These were the responses I heard when I expressed my irate feelings over a local homeless war veteran, James Kelly, who was issued a citation for “dumpster diving” in downtown Houston days ago. As a volunteer of Food Not Bombs and HAP (Houston Advocate Program) my main interest consist of assisting the homeless in utilizing coats, blankets, toiletries and assisting individuals in cutting through the red tape they are often faced with concerning their benefits and more. Because these individuals are homeless, the city and county have a tendency to look down upon these men and women who just need a little help.

In working with Food Not Bombs, I met Mr. Kelly (who calls himself “Bear”) a while back. The first thought when you interact with him: he was a big teddy bear. He is well spoken, cares deeply for others and is highly intelligent. So it was to my surprise when I had arrived at the food sharing Friday night when Bear approached me with a pink piece of paper in his hand. He quietly asked if he could speak to me. We shuffled off to a remote area when Bear opened up a piece of paper, allowing me to read the text. I was appalled when I read the description, “DISTURBING THE CONTENTS OF A GARBAGE CAN IN THE DOWNTOWN CENTRAL BUSINESS DISTRICT.”

Bear stated that there is an individual who purchases donuts and will intentionally discard a bag of donuts for the homeless to purposely find and eat. A gesture most likely done because the City of Houston has made it illegal for any individual or group to feed more than 5-people on public space without being fined up to $2,000 or could be arrested if one failed to comply. Mayor Parker and several council members passed an ordinance April 2012 which became law in July 2012, that made it illegal to feed Houston’s hungry without special permission from Mayor Parker. Months before the ordinance was passed by city leaders, hundreds of citizens flocked to weekly council meetings addressing their distaste and concern for the ordinance. One person after another was consistently ignored by Mayor Parker and Councilman James Rodriguez (District I) who once championed himself in stating, “treat our homeless with dignity, to be more efficient and to protect public property.” Rodriguez spearheaded the anti-feeding ordinance from start to finish with Mayor Parker in constant support of Rodriguez. The city indicated that there was a food safety concern then changed their concern to trash issues although Republic Trash Service had offered to pick up the trash at no cost to the taxpayer, as a way to show support for those who were AGAINST the food ordinance. There are also laws in effect for littering. Food safety concerns need not be pointed at caring individuals who work relentlessly on any given day to serve hot and healthy meals to those who are hungry, but the city should investigate Star of Hope Women’s shelter located on Houston’s east end of downtown. Star of Hope went on record at city council meetings offering their support FOR the feeding ordinance. Many would wonder if SOH cared so much for the homeless, then why would they support the feeding law? Simple: SOH is given funding in accordance with the number of people they serve, especially children. SOH loses funding if others around the city are caring for their needs. After investigating SOH Women’s shelter early 2012, food safety was my top concern as undercooked chicken, undercooked rice, expired can goods, day old bread and milk were served at the shelter. Several women and children would get sick shortly after eating their meals. I had even advised the Mayor’s office that the city needed to make an unannounced health inspection visit to SOH. To date, the Mayor has not responded to my inquiry after reciting my findings. Because Mr. Kelly’s story is gaining momentum and sparked an outrage among the citizens, Star of Hope’s Scott Arthur who is the Director of Public Relations went on record earlier today on 92 FM Houston News stating that many homeless do not utilize shelters because they do not want to adhere to rules and structure and that SOH is waiting by should the homeless need their help. However, this could not be further from the truth. Along with my investigation at SOH, it was disturbing to see so many homeless families mistreated by SOH volunteers and staff, almost treated like criminals. In bringing this matter to the attention concerning a few staff members who would act subservient and talk down to those in dire straights, I was met with finger pointing which positioned towards the homeless as if to say, they more than likely did something in order to be mistreated, snapped at, rudely spoken to and so on. Staff attitudes were not dealt with. SOH also tends to rely on “God’s work” in assisting the homeless as they hold weekly church services in their facility in which you either have to attend or one must get off the SOH grounds altogether, only being able to return after services are over. Seems hypocritical. Over and over again, many homeless stress that they do not utilize shelters because they are not only mistreated but made to feel as if they are not worthy of those things that make us feel special as a human being, and most of all, stripping their dignity. Star of Hope loses credibility as they should focus on their own issues rather than speaking of the homeless in this manner.

Moments after Mr. Kelly handed me his citation, I went to Facebook to express my outrage over the matter, requesting that we citizens assist him. Within minutes, Mr. Kelly had obtained civil rights attorney, Randall Kallinen. By Sunday afternoon, a copy of Mr. Kelly’s citation and story went viral. By Monday morning, media outlets were scrambling to get the story. The story was even listed on the Drudge Report. A story that has gained momentum and public outcry as the homeless continue to be targeted. It takes a soulless individual to pick on the less fortunate as we’ve seen Mayor Parker do in the last year. Even after the feeding ordinance became law, over 34,000 petitioned signatures were submitted to the city in the hopes to get the item on the November 2012 ballot & allow the citizens to vote however Mayor Parker dragged her feet and offered numerous excuses to why she would not get this done on time.

It is now election season as Mayor Parker is in the hopes to win her 3rd term. The dust seemed to have settled shortly after the petitions were continually ignored however today, the anti-sharing law is now the hot topic. If people are unable to freely give people food, then homeless will have to resort to looking in garbage cans in effort of finding something to eat. Now our homeless are targeted for doing that. At this point, one should question whether it is a good idea to have a mayor in office who can apply these kinds of laws on the homeless. As a political leader, that is about as low as one can go.

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.