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Houston City Council Hearings on Anti Food Sharing Ordinance
Houstonians including many Food Not Bombs volunteers speak out against the Amendment to Chapter 20 of Code of Ordinances.
Houston Food Not Bombs has been sharing healthy vegetarian food with hundreds of hungry people, several nights a week, for over 18 years and is a 2011 Recipient of a Peacemaker Award from the Houston Peace and Justice Center.
Well funded Houston homeless service organizations, developers, and city officials are promoting new regulations for dozens of groups like ours that provide food for the homeless in Houston every week. Read the new amendment on pages 33 – 45 here: http://www.houstontx.gov/citysec/backup/2012/030612.pdf
March 6, 2012, Houston City Council heard arguments against amending chapter 20 of the code of ordinances, imposing five new regulatory and licensing requirements for those who feed hungry people in Houston. These regulations would bring the work of non-professionals who do homeless service work under city and police purview. This law fits squarely in the context of criminalization of sharing of food across the country. Food Not Bombs participants in U.S. Cities have ended up in jail when restrictive new laws came into effect.
Here are the changes Houston's Mayor and various other organizations were hoping to implement.
print and distribute!
In an opinion piece in the Houston Chronicle, Hank Rush, the CEO of Star of Hope, among others, stated that organizations like the Star of Hope "have licensed kitchens, trained volunteer staff, are in compliance with the city of Houston's health and safety standards and feed the hungry on a routine schedule." However, Rush warns of other organizations, which the ordinance would seek to regulate due to "concern about ensuring charitable feeding operations abide by minimum health standards. This helps reduce sickness that can create additional public health concerns that can burden our public health care providers."
Home cooked meals would be completely banned by the new amendment to the city's code of ordinances. So, the question arises, how does Food Not Bombs, which shares home-cooked meals, stack up in terms of health concerns against Star of Hope. Food Not Bombs volunteer Nick Cooper asked homeless at Food Not Bombs to compare the two.
On Tuesday March 6, Houstonians attended the open session of City Council to denounce the anti-sharing amendment to the city's code of ordinances. Hear the voices of the diverse group of those opposed to this new law.
Group Invites City Council Members and the Media to Attend Their
(Potentially) Last Legal Meal.
Houston, Monday March 19: Tonight at 8pm at the Downtown Public Library Courtyard, rain or “shine,” Houston Food Not Bombs will celebrate what could be its last legal meal with the homeless downtown. Food Not Bombs, the Recipient of a 2011 Houston Peace and Justice Center “Peacekeeper” Award, has proudly shared home-cooked vegetarian food for the past 18 years. The group would run afoul of a proposed city ordinance which bars, among other things, sharing home cooked food in public spaces.
“We share healthy food with hundreds of people each week, and have never asked for any grants, funding, or anything else from the city,” said Nick Cooper, a local musician and Food Not Bombs volunteer for the past 8 years. “Well, now we are asking the city for something, actually, we demand it: Leave alone our right to peaceably assemble and share home cooked meals with hungry people.”
Food Not Bombs has chapters all around the world which serve vegetarian food and oppose militarism. This is not the first time they have been targeted by overzealous public officials. Recently in Orlando, FL, Food Not Bombs volunteers went to jail for participating in the newly criminalized act of sharing healthy food.
Homelessness is on the rise in Houston, and families are the most rapidly growing group, with the number doubling in the past few years. Though Hank Rush, the CEO of Star of Hope Mission, and Stephen Williams of the Coalition for the Homeless both support the new ordinance, statistics provided by their own organizations clearly show that they alone cannot meet the need. The hundreds of individuals, religious and civic groups all around Houston meeting this need now refuse to be criminalized for acts of compassion.
With under two weeks to organize, the list of organizations opposing this ordinance appears to be the most diverse coalition in Houston history, including: American Rights Association, Canvas Church Houston, Casa Juan Diego, Casa de la Fuente, Central Canaan Christian Church, Christ the Servant Lutheran Church, Dominican Sisters of Houston, Ecclesia Church Simple Feast, The Executive Council, Free Radicals, Harris County Democratic Socialists, Harris County Green Party, Harris County Libertarian Party, House of Amos, Houston Area Pastor Council, Houston Food Not Bombs, Houston Interfaith Worker Justice Center, Houston Property Rights Association, Houston Tea Party Society, Houston United, Houston Young Republicans, IMPACT: I am the Movement, ISKCON Houston (Hare Krishna Temple), Japhet Civic Association, Joe Williams Ministries, KHA-Atheists, Last Chance Recovery Center, Last Organic Outpost, Mosque #45 (Nation of Islam), Muslims Against Hunger Disease and Injustice, Light the Way Home, Inc., National Lawyers Guild, Houston Chapter, NHPO Leadership Institute, Noah’s Kitchen, Occupy Houston, Pat Greer’s Kitchen, Pax Christi, Ryon Civic Association, Shape Community Center, Sinfull Bakery, Stand Up for Kids, Texas Public Policy Foundation, Taxpayers For Equal Appraisal, UH Fair Labor Action Committee, UH Students for a Democratic Society, UH Students Against Sexual Harassment and Assault, Sonic Visions, West Houston Assistance Ministries, HCC Young Americans for Liberty.
here's what the Mayor was promoting today
Houston Is Still Criminalizing Sharing Food
We had an important victory in getting Houston City Council to back off, but we have not won yet, in fact the new “compromise” amendment could easily be used to impose the very same laws so many objected to in the first draft.