Homeless feeding ordinance, such as it is, passes Council


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.

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13 Responses to Homeless feeding ordinance, such as it is, passes Council

  1. PDiddie says:

    Nobody in favor of the ordinance went on the record for what to me was a powerful and obvious reason, Charles: the ordinance is wildly unpopular, and with a broad constituency of Houstonians. It stretches from Occupy Houston all the way to Helena Brown.

    Some of these people *cough*Kuboshes*cough* have axes to grind with the mayor, sure. And yes, she gave her opponents a hardware store full of shiny new sharp ones. She did so initially on false premises. Mayor Parker in fact duplicated the mistakes that the proponents of the urban legend of Voter/Photo ID fraud have made: invent “problems” that don’t actually exist as an excuse to pass a law.

    In her public attempts to sell the changes to city ordinance, Parker had spoken of the need to protect the homeless against food-borne illness, but had no data to indicate it was a persistent problem. She emphasized that it would promote coordination of charities so that several groups would not converge at a park by chance and have to throw out food for lack of takers.

    The ordinance had not prescribed how such coordination would occur.

    This ordinance is wrong, and most importantly it is wrong morally, not just politically.

    The mayor — and the council members who voted in favor of it — are likely to feel more than a little radioactive fallout from it.

  2. Eileen says:

    I agree that it’s probably very unpopular. As someone who voted for Parker, and was overall happy with her performance, this whole thing seems out of character (or perhaps, in character and revealing?)

    Exactly as the above poster says, anyone with sense can see that this is very much “inventing a problem”. Do we have huge problems with food poisoning among the homeless? If so, I haven’t heard about it.

    Food safety won’t increase, what will happen is fewer homeless will get fed, AND the city will have one more bullshit tool to use to shut down organizations (yes, including OCCUPY) that they don’t like. This is repressive and overly controlling. The made-up handwringing over food safety just reeks of deceit.

    Parker might want to reconsider.

  3. Mainstream says:

    The coalition in opposition to the ordinance includes a number of passionate and sophisticated political activists like Barry Klein, so I would expect them to be able to secure the needed signatures, and many of the opponents have a secondary agenda to undercut the Mayor so that she can be defeated in 2013, and those folks are also disciplined and organized.

  4. joshua bullard says:

    the big dissapointments in this lye in andrew c burks jr and ellen cohen,as i pointed out the majority of democrat speakers that were there were hell bent against this item in total, lived and voted out of ellen cohens district,andrew c burks jr -just plain decided to be an out right idiot on this vote from the start-andrew c burks presents an ammendment that is kicked out and he turns right around and votes it in,ellen cohen has to learn an important rule,if all your ever going to be is a yes vote for the mayor,then you are no better than someone that always vote’s no,being a great council member is about applying an even balance, with ellen cohen and the mayor having their cabinets stacked jacked and packed with liberal democrats,its almost impossible that these two will ever balance their skills to satisfy the right,and this is a sad fact,if you look back at the bill clinton administration-he kept a number of conservative republicans on his staff in order to keep the balance,you just dont get this out of the mayor and ellen cohen.its as if there both stuck in the 1990’s, houston has changed-alot-its a more conservative city than years past,its moving more towards less goverment -more freedom actions,

    these are the steps i take,when i am starting the process of removing elected officials from office
    ellen cohen,andrew c burks jr,you two should know better than to vote for this…….
    you know charles kuffner isnt saying anything about it because hes got to be bewildered at the mayor………………………………….

    talk about self destruction-joshua ben bullard 832 258 7511

  5. Paul Kubosh says:


    Well said. I really don’t know what andrew is thinking. The vote on that should have been easy for him. Then again I thought the vote on the red light camera settlement would be easy also. I am starting to believe he has the wrong people around him.

  6. JJ says:

    Annise would do a better job, Charles, if she worked more than 3 hours a day. All she does is public events. She never prepares, even for those. Her “comments” at most events are an embarrassment. At an AIPAC event, she said shed never heard of the organization! What? After 6 years on council and 6 as controller? She didn’t read the historical preservation ordinance, had no idea what it said — just watch Clutterbuck and Lovell figure it out on tapes of council from back then: they both clearly read it and Annise is saying “huh…what…” The only thing she is good at is conveying an image of being smart and hardworking. Anyone who spends any time around her quickly sees that ain’t so. And that includes tons of liberal Dems…just track down some who will be honest with you…

  7. Art says:

    I m utterly furious about this ordinance. Furious. I hope the people of this city get to vot eon this thing city we cant depend on our own council do listen to us! I havent been this angry about something council has done.

  8. Ross says:

    Art, I have been furious for years that do gooders think it’s OK to pass out a lot of food to feral humans (that’s really who gets fed in these situations), then drive off with self congratulatory pats on the back while leaving the residents of the area and the City to clean up the mess they leave behind. This isn’t religious freedom, it isn’t charity, it’s people who want to feel good about themselves going out and “doing something” about the “homeless”. They are clueless idiots who ought to be charitable closer to home.

  9. Paul Kubosh says:

    Ross, so you would be voting against a charter amendment to repeal the city ordinance, right?

  10. JJ says:

    “feral humans”!???!!! Yikes. Hard to know what to do with that comment of Ross’s.

    My impulse is to blame Annise for being a lazy worthless mayor. But unlike most contexts, it doesn’t seem to fit. Damn. Hate to pass up an opportunity.

  11. Ross says:

    That phrase is designed to elicit strong emotions. I also think it offers a good description of the recipients of do gooder feeding, who gain nothing from the experience other than a few calories and a desire to return to that spot for the next feeding.

  12. Eric Dick says:

    This ordinance is an unconstitutional restriction on religion and needs to be stricken down. It fervently upsets me that government wants to starve the homeless.

  13. Pingback: We need a much fuller public conversation about the homeless feeding ordinance – Off the Kuff

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