-Felicia Cravens, Contributing Writer
Today Houston City Council put off a vote for two weeks on the controversial Feeding Ordinance just one day after multiple speakers addressed the council with their concerns.
The 15-page Feeding Ordinance was boiled down to these lines in a Chronicle opinion piece:
- Register with the Houston Health Department. There is no charge for this registration and it is valid indefinitely or until the organization ceases operations.
- Complete a food-handlers training course provided at no charge by the health department. The training will include safe food handling procedures, ordinance requirements, strategies for working with the homeless and information and referral for health and social services.
- Obtain written permission from the owner/manager of public or private property at which food will be served.
- Prepare/assemble food in a licensed kitchen (which are readily available throughout the community).
- Require a plan for clean up of trash following food service.
- The criteria used to demonstrate whether or not a facility can be used for charitable feeding must include “reliable statistical data or similar information indicating a demonstrable need for charity feeding in the area,” a ridiculous requirement due to the fact that people who are hungry can be found everywhere and efforts to reach out to these people should not be restricted to what the cities say are highly dense hunger areas.
- “Parks with arboretums, ball fields, tennis courts, parks with special shrubs or vegetation would be unsuitable for these charitable feeding activities.” Do we not already serve food at ballparks and at tennis matches? How does the act become magically illegal when the food is no longer sold, but instead given away for free? Amazingly, busybody politicians and bureaucrats cannot stomach the notion that a citizen would give away free drinks after a baseball game or, even worse, free snacks to those who came to watch.
- “Food providers will be required to be registered and to conduct charitable feeding activities in accordance with all terms and conditions required by the Health and Human Services Department,”
- And last but not least “HPD will provide back up support to the Health Inspectors as needed and has the authority enforce any applicable state law or city ordinance,” with a criminal misdemeanor charge carrying a fine of up to $2,000 and possible arrest for failure to comply with this penalty.
Food Not Bombs adds these points against the ordinance:
- - impose additional surveillance and enforcement requirements on the police
- - require government permission to share food, criminalize citizens who do not have such permission (or had such permission taken away), and create a new complicated set of hearings, appeals, and consequences for those who lose such permission (punitive measures would include “cross-examination,” $2,000 a day fines, and criminal charges)
- - require an entirely different set of standards for those sharing food with the homeless compared to those sharing food at picnics or tailgate parties, in violation of the “equal protection under the law” clause of the 14th Amendment
- - impose city-mandated training in “strategies for working with the homeless”
- - make sharing of home-cooked food illegal
- - infringe on 1st amendment-protected rights to free assembly by requiring volunteer groups to obtain written permission to use public property
Probably the most remarkable part of this ordinance is how it has drawn such different organizations to speak out against it. Occupy Houston has joined the opposition to the ordinance, especially since it might have made their appeals for support like this illegal. At the same time, the Houston Area Pastor Council has condemned the ordinance questioning the need for a huge new bureaucracy and defending small church-led feeding operations all over the area.
Odd how government entities claim to need ever more money to help people who have “slipped through the cracks” while simultaneously claiming that the private measures to help the disadvantaged are dangerous and harmful. For instance, the Chronicle opinion piece states that at one location, there are many more meals available than there are homeless to eat them, causing sanitation problems and inefficiencies. Funny, though, how you always hear that no one cares about the homeless. There are many causes of big government, including a lack of community focus, but it would seem that is hardly the case here.
Perhaps this proposed regulation will accomplish what elections and campaigns have not – an agreement that big government at all levels needs to be reined in.