Will outside homeless experts ignore Houston’s anti-food sharing ordinance? Aug. 28 last day of COH Community Charrette on Homelessness

Photo by Burnell McCray

Houston’s Coalition for the Homelessness sponsored a 4 day charrette to raise concerns and find solutions for the homeless in Houston. The charrette featured homeless experts from outside of Houston. Sessions were held on Aug. 20, 21, 23 at the Harris County Department of Education, 6300 Irvington Blvd Houston TX. Tues. Aug. 28 from 10:00 am – noon will be the final report presentation. The public was invited to attend all four charrette sessions. Representatives from Houston Keep Food Sharing Free! attended. HKFSF is a diverse coalition of groups and individuals who are opposed to the recently passed City of Houston feeding ordinance. Their specific objection to the ordinance is the prohibition of sharing food with more than 5 people in need in public space without the City’s prior approval and then only in designated areas. Groups and individuals can be fined from $500 to $2000 for violating the feeding ordinance. Early in August City Council dismissed a 34,000 signature petition gathered by HKFSF to get Food Sharing before the voters in the upcoming Nov. election.

Background on feeding ordinance

Report back/recommendations to charrette panel from Keep Food Sharing Free and Food Not Bombs activist Nick Cooper

It is clear that the Continuum of Care has the ability to make recommendations and to make strong recommendations. It is essential that the recommendations include wording about the anti-food-sharing ordinance and the so-called civility ordinances. These are huge elephants in the room. I will explain some of the reasons why.

1) Though faith-based and activist volunteer groups sharing food with the homeless don’t require funding, their co-operation is necessary, and they have been alienated from this process. While various groups are excited to receive new levels of funding, we have been treated the  opposite — we are at risk of financial penalties of hundreds of thousands of dollars per week for our volunteer effort.

2) While much of the discussion here has focused on things that sound consensual – giving homeless better options — the civility ordinances and anti-food-sharing law are part of a different model. With threats of fines, incarceration, and literally the threat of a night-stick, homeless are being forced to move. They could be forced to move elsewhere, wherever, or they can be forced to go to a specific place.   It is not acceptable to end homelessness at the point of a police baton, but that is exactly what is already going on in Houston.

3) This is not merely a matter or messaging, in short, if the Continuum of Care is mandating an end to homelessness through punitive measures like the civility ordinance and the anti-food sharing law, no nice words can fix that.

4) The voices of these volunteers has been absent here for many reasons, first and foremost that we are volunteers and have other jobs.

5) While the idea of having a certification process makes sense for those receiving grant money, we need to go in the opposite direction. It is only the volunteer and faith based groups that provide for the folks who fall through the cracks of these solutions, and no matter how well you construct the solutions, there will be cracks. Unless we make some sort of stand, make some sort of recommendation about these oppressive laws, these essential groups will have not only been ignored and left out of the decision making process by the city but also by Corporation for Supportive Housing.

For these reasons and many more I could go into if I had longer to speak, it is essential that we adopt the following in any recommendations we make: “we support repealing the so-called ‘civility ordinances’ and anti-food-sharing law.”