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...