To my shame, I missed it. Only yesterday did I learn of the Homeless Persons Memorial Day. And while I knew Houston regulated food sharing with homeless people, I was taken back to learn that some 70 other cities similarly ban unapproved acts of charity.
A Christmas Eve article by Antimedia claims that Houston Police descended on homeless advocates and coerced homeless people to throw out ‘hot food, blankets and other supplies’ given to the homeless. One advocate claims that the police were good enough to provide a large, waste management truck to dispose of donated food stuffs and items.
Houston requires registration to distribute food to more than five people. Local government denies curtailing food distribution. Its website insists that ‘the city is trying to improve the quality, quantity and distribution of food for the homeless.’ The registration page provides further information and additional links.
The stated rationale may be good, but the National Coalition for the Homeless questions city motives.
‘Cities tend to claim that they are acting in concern for the well-being of its homeless residents. In most cases, they believe these restrictions will ensure that they are receiving safe food in an area where they can be connected with social services. These are fine ambitions, but so rarely the reality.’
‘Most often, there is an objection to having groups of homeless people congregate in public spaces, where the ‘quality of life’ of housed citizens may be affected. In major tourist destinations, especially, cities fear the impacts of visible homelessness on their economic viability. By criminalizing food-sharing in public spaces, they are able to push the homeless out of sight, much like similar efforts to criminalize panhandling and/or lying down in public places.’
Houston Ordinance No. 2012-269 gives the city power to do exactly that.
The City of Houston ordinance was strongly supported by District I rep. James Rodriguez.
“What this ordinance is trying to do is treat our homeless with dignity, to be able to be more efficient and to protect public property,” Rodriguez said. “We’re not saying you can’t feed them, but let’s just work together to help clean up the trash.”
It isn’t clear whether ‘trash’ references packaging containers or ‘them’ Rodriguez says ‘you can’t feed.’
For ten years, I attended a church with a very active pantry. And it hosted community meals. At those meals, I made it my job to greet and spend time with every guest. I heard stories. As necessary, I made referrals. I learned that even tracking where meals are offered is extremely taxing. And walking long distances between meals [often with children] takes a heavy toll. Energy must be allocated carefully between essential tasks.
For two thousand years, Christians have practiced Jesus’ example in Jesus’ name by feeding the poor hungry. As hunger increases and programs on which the needy rely dwindle, Jesus’ teaching matters all the more. Kate Randall provides essential perspective on the 500,000 homeless people in the United States. This matter requires more exposure.