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.
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.
“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.