Houston police ticket man for feeding people experiencing homelessness

Houston police ticket man for feeding people experiencing homelessness
Houston police ticket man for feeding people experiencing homelessness

HOUSTON (AP) – Houston police have ticketed a man for giving food to the homeless outside a public library, provoking outrage from a charitable group that plans to challenge a longstanding city ordinance.

City regulations governing who can provide free outdoor meals to the needy were passed in 2012. The ordinance requires such groups to get permission from property owners if they feed more than five people, but it was not enforced until recently, said Nick Cooper, a volunteer with Food Not Bombs, said Thursday.

For decades, the group has provided meals four nights a week outside the Houston Public Library without issue. But the city recently posted a notice at the scene warning that police will soon begin issuing citations, and the first came Wednesday night.

“It was a moment last night that we had been waiting for for 11 years,” Cooper said. “One of our volunteers actually got a ticket for this law, which gives us the opportunity to challenge it in court.”

Mayor Sylvester Turner said in his State of the City address in November that he wanted the group to move.

“We’re going to take back the downtown library to make it more healthy and welcoming for families and kids,” Turner said, according to the Houston Chronicle. “It’s a great asset to the city of Houston. We have a few too many homeless people and food programs in front of Central Houston.”

In a statement Thursday, the mayor’s office said the city is now providing meals and other services to homeless people at an approved facility located about a mile north of the library.

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The change was made in part because of an increased number of threats and violent incidents directed at library staff and visitors by homeless people, the mayor’s office said.

“We simply cannot lose control of the iconic and historic building which is meant to be a special and safe place for all. The alternative site has the infrastructure and facilities to accommodate the nutrition charities and our brothers and sisters who need a warm meal and services,” the mayor’s office said.

Cooper said the approved site is not ideal because it is close to a police station. Food Not Bombs members are willing to discuss options, he said, but in the meantime hope to prevail in court. In 2021, a federal appeals court sided with a Food Not Bombs chapter in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in a similar case.

“If they’re going to have the law and just use it to threaten people and intimidate people, it’s time they write a ticket for it, because this law is not going to stand up in court,” Cooper said. “This law is rubbish.”

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