Last year the city council of Houston, Texas, passed a law
making it illegal to feed the homeless within the city without the permission of property owners.
Yes, in the land of six-guns, cattle rustling and Enron, handing a sandwich to a homeless person in a city park or serving a bowl of soup in a rented storefront can earn you a $500 fine. Some charitable organizations, financially unable to risk the fines, have relocated outside the city.
Last week, Houston police ticketed a homeless man for trying to feed himself by fishing a donut from a trash bin in a public park.
James Kelly, a nine-year Navy veteran, was issued a citation for violating a peculiar law on the books since 1942, and amended as recently as 2002, that makes it illegal to “remove any contents of any bin, bag or other container that has been placed for collection of garbage, trash or recyclable materials.”
“I know on the face of it, it sounds very cruel,” Ray Hunt, president of the Houston Police Officers’ Union, said, claiming that most police officers would not cite someone for simply taking food from a dumpster.
Yes, Mr. Hunt, it does, and apparently they do; see the copy of the citation above.
Since the news broke of Kelly’s encounter with the law, there has been an outpouring of concern from less heartless Houstonians. Randall Kallinen, a Houston attorney who’s fought against the “anti-feeding” ordinance, has taken the case. Kallinen acknowledges that Kelly got his ticket based on the garbage law not the feeding ordinance, but says the two laws overlap in that both seek to achieve the same goal – to force the homeless out of Houston and into neighboring municipalities.
"The city of Houston has shown, over the many years, a hostile environment toward the homeless," said Kallinen, who plans to represent Kelly in court next month.