Homeless feeding ordinance, take three

Mayor Parker does a third revision of the controversial proposed ordinance about feeding the homeless.

Parker has whittled an original proposal that would have set rules on preparation, storage and server training down to a plan that mandates only that groups get written permission from the owner of the property to serve meals there. If the property is a city park, the rule still would apply, with permission granted or denied by the city parks director.

Councilman James Rodriguez, whose District I includes downtown, said that although the proposed rules have been scaled back, “We need to start somewhere.” A long-term strategy to alleviate homelessness also will have to include more money for mental health services and long-term housing, he said.

Several of the city’s largest homeless services groups, such as Star of Hope, support the plan. Several smaller charitable groups still oppose the new rules and have distributed T-shirts to homeless people downtown that bear Parker’s smiling visage and the words “The homeless can still eat in public, but now you have to ask me for permission.”

“Anybody that wants to share food anywhere has to have written permission,” said Nick Cooper of Food Not Bombs, which serves meals four times a week in the plaza of the Central Library and has submitted a substitute ordinance seeking a commitment from the city to provide more trash cans and public bathrooms downtown.

According to City Attorney David Feldman, the new ordinance is needed because current laws have “proven ineffective in preventing the sanitation problems that accrue at popular feeding sites” and because as things stand now “the onus is on the property owner to confront and report trespassers”. Stace calls this a “better explanation of a bad idea”. I don’t think it’s an adequate explanation, and as such I can’t say if it’s a good idea or a bad idea. Are there any examples the city can provide of property owners who were bothered by trespassers and couldn’t get the cops to do anything about it for whatever the reason? Putting it another way, is there someone who can testify that this proposed ordinance would help them? We’ve heard quite a bit from those who say that each version of this ordinance would hurt them, and they make a statement that is both powerful and un-answered. When we were talking about food safety and litter, there was at least an intuitive reason for this ordinance. I don’t feel like I have that any more. Who is this ordinance for?

I posed those questions to the Mayor’s office via email, and am awaiting an answer. I don’t know why that information wasn’t front and center from the beginning, but that’s neither here nor there at this point. I do have these two documents from the Mayor’s office with background information about the ordinance and a report on Charitable Food Service prepared by Marilyn Brown, President and CEO of Coalition of the Homeless Houston and Harris County; I also emailed my questions about the ordinance to her. That document summarized four focus groups done with different audiences that have a stake in this discussion – current and former homeless individuals; downtown businesses and management districts; faith-based and volunteer organizations that feed the homeless; and other service providers who also provide food. It’s pretty informal but has some interesting data nonetheless. Neither document answers my question, but they tell me a lot more than I knew before. We’ll see where this goes from here.

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15 Responses to Homeless feeding ordinance, take three

  1. Eric Weinmann says:


    The proposed changes have a strong positive benefit to the following groups for the following reasons:

    *Charitable Groups (Better Trained)- Groups and individuals who voluntarily comply with the optional ordinance guidelines, including training, will have better insight in working with the homeless. This includes training on safe food handling as well as interaction with the homeless, who are all too often mentally ill or dependent on illegal narcotics. In doing so, the physical and emotional safety of all involved is protected.

    *Homeless – Unfortunately, the net impact of a surplus of food amounts to enabling the homeless. By allowing the homeless to feel comfortable living on the streets for extended periods of time (of in perpetuity), we discourage the homeless from seeking stability, shelter and self-responsibility and reliance. By offering better coordination and training of those wishing to serve food to the homeless, we help ensure this.

    *Taxpayers – Currently, the city, through the Parks Department and the management districts, especially EaDo, are tasked with clean up after feeding operations. This surmounts to a growing bill for the taxpayer. In fact, EaDo spends nearly $200,000 per year just on homeless food service clean up.

    *Property Owners – Private property owners and business owners/managers have seen their rights trampled upon by many fringe groups feeding the homeless. We heard testimony from Momentum BMW stating the surplus food/garbage left over from weekend morning has created a decrease in business and the added expense of cleaning up someone’s mess. These stories are common and the ordinance protects these private property rights.

  2. Katy Anders says:

    The reasons listed in Weinmann’s comment (above) seem a little strange to me.

    “Enabled” by food?

    I have lived on the streets more than once in my life and the idea that folks are going to feel too good about their living situation and just decide to stay if they get fed is… well, it is BIZARRE, and it ignores the realities behind why most folks are homeless.

    MOST folks are driven to homelessness by one of only a few factors, and these SAME factors often make it impossible or impracticable for them to utilize traditional shelters and other organizations serving the homeless for assistance.

    Mental illness and substance abuse – alone or together – often mean that shelters and other services are not options. They also mean that they’re not rationally weighing “comfort” versus home livin’ in their heads in some kind of cost-benefit analysis that will be thrown off if people giving them food have to get licenses.

    Getting food means someone isn’t going to have to decide between a) getting food out of a garbage can; b) panhandling; c) stealing; or d) not eating right then. That’s ALL. People on the street WILL eventually eat something one way or the other.

    (Incidentally, this current ordinance does not sound as awful as the last one.)

  3. joshua bullard says:

    charles kuffner-mayor parker is taking i direct shot at her base with this ordinance/and at the same time she is putting the finishing touches on a long city career,what the hell ever happened to the annise parker we all thought we knew kuffner…………………….

    take it joshua bullard

  4. Mainstream says:

    I have friends who live in Midtown, Third Ward, Binz areas who strongly support some sort of ordinance. Their perspective is that do gooders from the suburbs or wealthier neighborhoods come to churches or sites in their area, drop off food, then drive away in their SUVs, while they and their neighbors deal with the litter, urination on their property, petty theft coming and going. I think sometimes they are overreacting, and that many of these problems would exist with or without charities feeding in the area, and were present when they bought into the neighborhood, but they are embittered at the churches and other groups. They report that the police are uninterested in responding to minor trespass calls, and arrive so late as to be ineffective, and are often hostile to the homeowners who complain, indicating that they resent being called out for such issues.

  5. Jules says:

    The whittled down ordinance shows the true intent of the ordinance. Nothing to do with food safety.

  6. Eric Weinmann says:

    Mainstream – as a Midtown resident, I understand their perspectives and can relate to the scenario you mentioned.

    Remember, as Jules points out, the ordinance is voluntary (less the property rights perspective). Therefore, organizations and groups wishing to become better coordinated and trained to help the homeless have the necessary resources while the taxpayer and private business/homeowners are not burdened with the unfair task of clean up.

  7. Jules says:

    How did I point out the ordinance is voluntary? Because it’s not voluntary.

    People should not have to get permission to use public parks. There should be no fines for feeding the homeless.

    You work for CM Burks, correct?

  8. Eric Weinmann says:

    In no way do you need permission to use a public park in any way that is unreasonable. For example. you cannot camp in a public park (other than Lake Houston Wilderness Park just north of Kingwood). Should you chose to organize a large-scale food distribution (more than 5 people) in any park other than the three not covered by the ordinance, you would indeed need to have permission. But this is a similar standard used for many other park activities.

    Yes, I work for CM Burks.

  9. Ross says:

    The feeding of the homeless by clueless do gooder suburbanites was one reason we moved from Midtown. Those folks would come in from Katy, Kingwood, etc, and pass out some food, do some preaching over overly loud speakers, and head back home with congratulatory back pats. Meanwhile, the residents of the area were left with a bunch of trash and feral humans eliminating all over the place. The police interest was less than zero. If we still lived in midtown, I would be picketing in support of this ordinance.

    I will say that if you give a police officer a hard time about their attitude, they get better over time. You can also ask for a supervisor to come and explain why your complaint wasn’t worth enough to care about.

  10. Eric Weinmann says:

    Ross – Kingwood is inside city limits 😉

  11. Jules says:

    Eric – specifically what other park activities?

  12. joshua bullard says:

    i cant wait to see andrew c burks jr’s face when he finds out he has lost his re-electin bid,this guy just summed up his entire city council journey in one vote-

    eric,since you work for him,while your grabbing some boxes to help him pack,get some for yourself ace, you will both be out of a job come nov next year,you can bet the farm on it………………joshua ben bullard

  13. Pingback: Homeless feeding ordinance, such as it is, passes Council – Off the Kuff

  14. Gael Graham says:

    I don’t live in Houston so am not involved in this debate. I became aware of it when a friend of mine posted this, supposedly from Annise Parker’s Facebook:

    “All I need is the time to clear those poor hungry asses who stink on ice out of my city. Protest, sue, take it to the supreme court for all I care, I am the mayor and by the time you do all that crap, I will have cleared those bums out for my developer friends. Suck easter eggs, you bunch of do-gooders!”

    Does this sound like your mayor? I’m thinking this is one of her opponents–I can’t quite believe that any breathing politician would be this crass.

  15. I will simply note that Mayor Parker has two real Facebook pages:


    This one, where you found that quote, is either a poorly-done parody or a page that has been hacked:


    I’ll be letting her office know about it.

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