City Council outlawed feeding homeless people anywhere in Houston without permission of the property owner, voting 11-6 Wednesday after a month of protest that persisted even as the ordinance was vastly scaled back from its original form.
Mayor Annise Parker unveiled the plan last month with the announced intention of guaranteeing the safety of food served to the homeless and to channel charity to the places where it could do the most good. It was, Parker said over the course of the month, a plan to get the most food to the most people.
Originally, Parker proposed requiring that all charitable food be prepared in city-certified kitchens, that at least one person from each feeding organization take a food safety class and that everyone who wants to feed the homeless register with the city. The penalties for violations ranged as high as $2,000.
The version passed Wednesday reduced the maximum penalty to $500, made registration voluntary and lifted the food prep requirements. The property restriction does not apply to the feeding of five or fewer people.
I’m just going to outsource this to Inner Looped, because I couldn’t say this any better:
The frustrating thing through all of this is the misinformation and misunderstanding about the original ordinance. The Mayor did nothing to stand her ground. Instead, opponents took over the debate and defined the message in the media as this being an attack on religious freedom (despite that claim as having failed in other parts of the country when similar ordinances passed).
The media also had their minds made up ahead of time. In fact, InnerLooped was contacted by a local news station (we’ll keep it anonymous) about participating in a prerecorded debate against one of their anchors who was against the ordinance. While a “prerecorded debate” against one of their own anchors worried us about possible fairness (would they really air us proving their own anchor wrong?), we declined mainly because we believed it was up to that news outlet to have the Mayor or a supportive Council member explain it. That said, we found it interesting that instead of presenting the facts (or exploring how other cities have handled this issue), it was more important to have their anchor present their personal views on the subject.
It remains the case that every story I have read about this ordinance has failed to include even one quote from someone explaining what this ordinance was for and why they believed it would be helpful for them. As Inner Looped says, that’s a big fat failure on the part of the Mayor’s office – I get every email they send out, and I did not see a single communication relating to this ordinance until a couple were forwarded to me on Tuesday. I have no idea what they were thinking during this process. As far as the media goes, did Bob Eury go into radio silence or something? Surely there was one person from Midtown or Downtown or EaDo that could have supplied a pro-ordinance quote. For that matter, where were the representatives from Star of Hope and the other organizations that were said to have favored this? How can anyone get a fair picture of what this debate was about in the utter absence of this perspective? I am just boggled by the whole thing.
And it’s not over yet:
After the vote, opponents announced they intend to start a petition drive to overturn the new ordinance through a ballot measure in November. Long-time civil rights lawyer Randall Kallinen said he plans to seek a temporary restraining order to prevent the ordinance from going into effect this summer.
Remember, they have thirty days to force that referendum. I’m too full of ennui to bother figuring out how many signatures they’d need, but I daresay it’s fair to say that it will be a challenge. We’ll know soon enough if it’s going to happen.