Tag Archives: Houston City Council

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.

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.