Houston City Council passed the feeding ordinance today despite the protests from many Houstonians. Although this ordinance is slightly better than the one originally proposed, Mayor Annise Parker severely failed on this one. The ordinance that passed requires written permission from the property owner to feed five or more homeless people and gives the city parks director the authority to designate certain parks as legal feeding venues (see here). The ordinance also asks for charitable organizations to voluntarily register with the city and agree to safety rules and the coordination of scheduling. The penalty for violations is $500.
There are many, many things wrong with this ordinance, and I think many of the council members and others have done a great job explaining that. So rather than reiterate the same reasons why this ordinance is so awful, here is my take on how they should fix the ordinance (IF they HAD to pass something at all – and at this point, I am not convinced of that):
The City of Houston could create a website that allows charitable organizations to sign up on a voluntary basis, similar to the current ordinance. The website would allow charitable organizations to sign up on a calendar for a date, time, and location for where they are planning on feeding the homeless. Owners of private land even put their location on the calendar to allow charitable organizations to sign up at their place too. The difference between this and the current ordinance is that this plan wouldn’t prohibit other groups from feeding the homeless on the same day. Rather, it would just allow groups to coordinate their efforts, and since the website could run on its own, it would cost very little for the city to help this coordination…. Again, only if the city really thinks that this “problem” is as necessary as they say.
Charities that feed the homeless have to work very hard for the monetary donations they receive. I am sure that many charities would voluntarily sign up for this website to join efforts to make sure that they aren’t planning a big event to feed the homeless at the same time and place as another group. Coordinating efforts is helpful and might be welcomed by groups.
This would completely do away with penalties and requiring written permission to feed five or more people. Charities would be able to see many private locations that welcome their services. If a private land owner is worried about loitering and littering, there are already laws on the books for them to follow. We don’t need more! Also, if a land owner has tried to remove the homeless from his or her land to no avail, they could put up a “no loitering” sign and another sign explaining that food is not allowed on the property. Surely charities will listen and find another place to feed the homeless. Charities aren’t here to make enemies!
There are many other cities that have similar ordinances such as Orlando, Dallas, and Las Vegas. All of these cases ended with lawsuits and many unhappy people, and there is no concrete evidence that such ordinances have helped anyone concerned. Mayor Parker should rethink the message this is sending to the city. This ordinance will do little other than making Houstonians angry and criminals out of those who are here to help.
Thanks to the following council members who voted against the ordinance: Mike Sullivan, Helena Brown, Al Hoang, Oliver Pennington, C.O. Bradford and Jack Christie.
Council Members who voted in favor of the ordinance are: Jerry Davis, Ellen Cohen, Wanda Adams, Ed Gonzalez, James Rodriguez, Mike Laster, Larry Green, Stephen Costello, Andrew Burks, and Melissa Noriega.