Houston Mayor Annise Parker Blind To The Symbolism Of The Anti-Food Sharing Ordinance—The Shadow Sells The Substance
Below are specifics of the anti-food sharing ordinance as reported by Mayor Annise Parker’s office.
The Mayor’s office was able to post these rules on the day in-between the anniversary Martin Luther King’s death and Good Friday, to tell folks how sharing food with the homeless will now be regulated.
One of the two most disturbing things about this in my view, is that public property is seen as having an “owner’ and is being treated here by Mayor Parker no differently than private property.
The other issue that bothers me most is the blindness of the Mayor and Council Democrats regarding the symbolism of restricting the sharing of food with the homeless.
The only Councilmember who seems to fully get the symbolism is Libertarian-leaning Republican Helena Brown, who will soon be holding a so-called town meeting on the subject. Ms. Brown is both smarter and more dangerous than people on various sides of this debate want to give her credit for being. Ms. Brown denies her City Hall staff fulltime hours and access to City of Houston health benefits.
In any case, you can read here the Mayor’s side of the issue as we move ahead with the petition drive to repeal the ordinance. Nothing you’ll read will change the bottom line that the sharing of the food with the homeless has now in many instances been criminalized. Mayor Parker simply does not want to understand this basic reality.
From Mayor Parker—
There is lots of misinformation about the Charitable Food Service Ordinance. Here are the facts about the ordinance adopted by City Council yesterday:
- It takes effect July 1, 2012
- It recognizes the importance of charitable behavior while still providing protection for owners who don’t want that charity occurring on their properties
- The only mandatory component is a requirement to obtain written permission from the owner before any charitable food service on both public and private property without the written permission of the owner. Organizations that fail to obtain written permission may be charged with a misdemeanor, which carries a penalty of up to $500. The rest of the ordinance creates the voluntary Charitable Food Service Provider Program. This allows organizations to coordinate services, but without concerns about red tape. Organizations desiring to participate in the voluntary Recognized Charitable Food Service Provider Program will be required to:
- o Register basic contact information with the City of Houston
- o Cooperate with the City in scheduling any food service event at which five or more individuals will be fed
- o Follow basic hygiene, sanitation, and food safety rules provided by the Houston Department of Health and Human Services
- o Have at least one person at each food service site who has completed the free training in sanitary food preparation offered by HDHHS
- o Authorize inspections by the HDHHS of their kitchens and transport vehicles and the like
- o Implement changes suggested by the Health Department
- o Clean up after the event
- The names and addresses of organizations that abide by the above requirements will be listed on the City’s website. In addition, they will be entitled to use their designation as a Recognized Charitable Food Service Provider in their publications.
- The Parks and Health Departments are developing rules for the use of City properties for charitable food service activities.
In Houston, we identify a problem, put an idea out there to address it and then listen to the community for feedback. This time the process worked better than we expected. So many people from many diverse groups got engaged and there is renewed focus on finding ways to address our problem of homelessness. While not everything is in agreement as to the direction being taken, the process has been very productive. Mayor Parker hopes everyone will all stay engaged because there is more work to do to solve the problems that prompted this discussion: the unapproved use of private property, the lack of coordination that results in food being wasted, the health and safety issues that can arise due to improperly prepared food and the trash often left behind. In six months, this ordinance will be reviewed in the City Council- Quality of Life Committee.
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