Texas Liberal

All People Matter

Talking Points To Defeat Cruel New Houston Anti-Food Sharing Ordinance—Collective Actions Must Be Guided By Individual Conscience

Houston City Council, led by Mayor Annise Parker and Councilman James Rodriguez, have passed an ordinace that will criminalize many instances of sharing food with the homeless.

Here are some details of this law from Mayor Parker’s office.

Mayor Parker and Mr. Rodriguez are blind to the fact that Sojourner Truth understood many years ago—It is the shadow that sells the substance.

This new law is a mean-spirited law that is meant to harass the homeless. It is the third restriction on the homeless in nine months as we offer public subsidy to soccer stadiums and so-called arthouse movie theaters.

There is a Facebook group that is opposing this new law.  They are circulating a petition to oppose this new law. Go to the Facebook page to learn more details.

Here is an e-mail to get a petition to circulate to help repeal the ordinance — Free2GiveVolunteers@gmail.com

Some of the folks in the coalition to defeat the new law are very good people who are concerned with the fate of all people.

Others are conservatives who just want to move Houston to the right, and see this as a chance to link the brutality of modern conservatism to an illusion of compassion for those most in need.

I support repeal of this law and will post on this subject a number of times in the days ahead.

At the same time, I will keep some distance from the organized opposition to this law.

Collective action is essential, yet it is individual conscience that must guide our acts.

The Keep Houston Sharing Free website has come up with talking  points to discuss this cruel ordinance in the days ahead.

These points are useful if you decide to circulate the petition, or if you just want to discuss the new law with your fellow citizens of Houston.

Here are the talking points—-

1) The new ordinance will regulate a natural expression of human compassion, inhibit groups sharing food with the poor, and cause suffering. 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. This law will cause homeless people to suffer and become sick.

2) In City Council chambers, the few homeless service providers who supported the law were those with city contracts, every other homeless and poor service provider opposed it. At a faith-based food sharers study group conducted by Coalition for the Homeless, not one of the many diverse religious group representatives favored the mandatory and punitive aspects of this law. These compassionate people know best: this type of law will cause poor to suffer.

3) 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 1st 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.

4) 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.

5) 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 no studies or data presented to justify a new law.

6) 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.

7) The permission process could be used to re-introduce all of the most hated criteria that were taken out of the earlier draft.

8) The police would be given the new job of surveillance and enforcement against good Samaritans. The amount of the fines are said to be $500, which is much more than the entire monthly income of many who help the homeless.

9) There are over 60 groups speaking out against this law. From the conservative Houston Area Pastor’s Council to the Catholic Workers, from Occupy to the Tea Party, evangelical protestants to civil rights organizations, from the Harris County Republican Party to the Green Party, from the Nation of Islam to the Hare Krishnas, the diversity of these groups may well be unprecedented.

10) 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.

11) Spontaneous and un-coordinated distribution of food to the needy is a proud Houston tradition and groups have done so for years without problems.

12) Mayor 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.

13) 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.

14) 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.

15) 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 to get permission to use. This sets a terrible precedent: This week it is permission to feed others, next week it could easily be that you may need permission to take your child to the parks because of the liability that exist if you don’t watch your child and they fall off the swing, etc…

April 9, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , ,

3 Comments »

  1. [...] It would be far more productive if our city was discussing progress, rather than going after immigrants and going after the sharing of food with the homeless. [...]

    Pingback by More On Anti-Immigrant Initiatives Targeted For 2012 Houston Ballot | The Alief Post | April 18, 2012

  2. This is one of the most on-point rebuttals of a government gone amok with the need to monitor all actions of its citizens, so completely and so thoroughly , wielding power it should not have. The power to actually enforce people with the means to give aid to people in crisis to sit on their aid making their aid a criminal action. As Memorial day weekend comes up I see beautiful signs everywhere touting America as the Land of the Free. How can a country possibly call itself free when government gives itself the power to regulate acts of kindness and compassion such as feeding the hungry. Telling us how we may give food, to whom we may give food, when we may give food, where we may give food. money for permits to give food. To fine someone and put someone in jail for seeing hungry suffering and trying to alleviate that hungry suffering by merely giving food. To share food is an act of love not a crime. Food is the centerpiece of every celebration known to man and it has been since the beginning of time. When we keep letting laws like this pass we are slowly but surely letting the government take all freedoms away from us. . For those who enjoyed the book 1984 by George Orwell as I did when I was young we are seeing all that book predicted come true just 28 years later . We must not let that happen. We must protect our individual liberties and freedom. We must never let government assume so much power that we are told to look away,to not give aid to to let genocide occur because certain people don’t like the looks of other people WE DO ALL MATTER. The poor, the dirty, the clean the rich. All of us people deserving to be seen and looked after.

    Comment by Kathy Mitro | May 25, 2012

  3. Kathy—Thank you for this fine comment. Not much I can add. Everyone does indeed matter.

    Comment by Neil Aquino | June 2, 2012


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