Houston, Mar 3:Houston police have ticketed a man for giving food to homeless people outside a public library, provoking outrage from a charitable group and plans to challenge a longstanding city ordinance.
City regulations on who can provide free meals outdoors to those in need were enacted in 2012. The ordinance requires such groups to get permission from property owners if they feed more than five people but it wasn’t enforced until recently, 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 incident. But the city recently posted a notice at the site warning that police would soon start issuing citations, and the first came Wednesday night.
“That was a moment last night 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, in his State of the City address in November, said he wanted the group to relocate.
“We’re going to retake the downtown central library to make it more wholesome and inviting to families and to kids,” Turner said, according to the Houston Chronicle. “That is a major asset of the city of Houston. We have a few too many homeless folk and feeding programs in front of Central Houston.”
The mayor’s office did not immediately respond Thursday to an email seeking comment. In an earlier statement to local media, city officials said distributing free food at the library is no longer permitted under updated regulations for charitable food service events on public property. There is one approved site on public property, however, that meets “necessary requirements for a safe, clean, and respectful environment.”
“The City supports, and is grateful for, the charitable food services provided throughout the City,” the statement said.
Cooper said that the approved location isn’t ideal because it is close to a police station. Food Not Bombs members are willing to discuss alternatives, 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 about time they wrote a ticket for it, because this law is not going to stand in court,” Cooper said. “This law is garbage.” (AP)
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