The City of Houston made it a crime to share food with the homeless.
This law is a violation of our First Amendment rights, it is a mean-spirited law, and it is meant to harass the homeless and compassionate individuals.
This about this for a moment: it is legal to give food to animals but its criminal to give food to the homeless.
The new ordinance will regulate a natural expression of human compassion and inhibits groups sharing food with the poor. Any group or individual who drives around looking for hungry people in need of food will be immediately criminalized since they wouldn’t have prior written permission for the locations where they find people. A significant portion of Houston homeless rely on these forms of spontaneous feeding.
Requiring permission for groups to serve has precedent. In San Francisco in 1988, the permit requirement was used to criminalize and arrest hundreds of food sharing volunteers. Asking for permission is never easy, free, quick, or fair. These permit requirements violate our First Amendment freedoms of assembly, speech, and religion.
Since the law only applies to those sharing food with the homeless, and not those at a tailgating party, the law violates the “equal protection under the law” clause of the 14th Amendment.
The law was written hastily and is incomplete, declaring that “there exists a public emergency” without explaining what the emergency is. The law does not include a fee schedule or any of the criteria or processes for obtaining permission to serve. It seems it was written vaguely intentionally to require expansion later, when public attention has waned.
The law doesn’t achieve any clear policy objectives. The extra expenses that will be incurred are not necessary and have not been budgeted. The law creates additional work and bureaucracy for various city agencies and homeless food providers without any clearly identified benefits. The law punishes, but does not reward. There were nostudies or data presented to justify a new law.
When interviewed, over 90% of homeless downtown indicated that without volunteer groups able to help them in the streets, they would turn to crime, begging for money, or less healthy options.
The permission process could be used to re-introduce all of the most hated criteria that were taken out of the earlier draft.
The police would be given the new job of surveillance and enforcement against good Samaritans. The amount of the fine is $2,000, which is much more than the entire monthly income of many who help the homeless.
We the people have a right to share food with the needy and no one has the right to make us ask for permission each time. Volunteers help feed the homeless without making financial demands on the city, and as such should be held up as examples, not criminalized.
Spontaneous and un-coordinated distribution of food to the needy is a proud Houston tradition and groups have done so for years without problems.
Annise Parker did not offer any studies to document instances of food poisoning, significant food wastage, or the projected impact of these new regulations on homeless populations.
The management districts in and near downtown are funded with tax dollars to implement service plans (posted on their websites) that embrace responsibilities that warrant placement of trash receptacles, public toilets and litter removal programs to beautify and rebrand their geographic areas, and already do so to an extent.
No laws can eliminate the annoyances the mayor’s ordinance is addressing, and trying to do so will waste police time in a futile quest.
The City, through this ordinance, has converted public property to private property. Public property, paid for with tax dollars, is now the Mayor’s property that you have toget permission to use. This sets a terrible precedent.