In 2012, City Council approved an ordinance requiring anyone wanting to feed those in need to have prior permission from the city or private property owner before distributing food.
Online, the city writes:
“The ordinance was an effort to establish a voluntary program to coordinate outdoor food service operations for the homeless. The intent of the ordinance was three pronged:
-To improve the quality, quantity and distribution of food provided outdoors;
-To expand the opportunities for the homeless to connect with service providers; and
-To reduce the disproportionate environmental impact of food service operations on public and private property.”
Jay Hamberger has been bringing food to Houston’s homeless for 27 years. He feels the city is infringing on his right to help others by requiring him to have prior permission to distribute food on public and private property.
“I’ve done it with impunity for 27 years now, and I’m the most law-abiding outlaw, because what I’m doing is illegal,” Hamberger said. “My understanding is that there’s no legal way to make this right with the city.”
The city provides this form online for free. It is required for anyone requesting to feed the homeless on someone else’s private property. To request a public park or green space to feed the homeless, you have to complete the information here.
Mayor Sylvester Turner wasn’t sitting at the head of council’s table when the ordinance passed, but he’s standing by the need for more than driving around Houston handing out food.
“It goes beyond feeding them. The focus of this administration is, if they’re hungry, we’ll feed them but do it in a way that meets their holistic needs,” Turner said.
The 2012 ordinance created a voluntary registration to connect volunteers wanting to feed people in need with organizations.
Jonathan Raines has been volunteering through his church, Humble First Assembly. He joined forces with Loaves and Fishes on the city’s east side about a year ago. He is an example of how the ordinance has helped and hurt volunteers.
“We’re always looking forward to a better way of service, but we’d also like to be free to serve anyone anywhere that needs,” Raines said.
The city has never issued a citation for violating the ordinance. However, Hamberger says police are starting to patrol what he calls the "homeless hotspots around town."
“They have threatened me, and they’re there every week,” Hamberger said.
The lawyer that started a change.org petition that has about 75,000 signatures is questioning civil right infringement of people trying to feed Houston’s homeless population. In chambers Tuesday, it was unclear what will be proposed by the group next.