Groups Say New Ordinance Would Prevent Them From Feeding the Hungry

Proposed revisions to a current city ordinance would require groups that feed the homeless to register with the city health department, take food handling classes, and prepare food in a licensed kitchen. Organizations would also have to get written permission from the owners of public or private property where the food is served.

Mayor Annise Parker says she appreciates what charitable groups are doing, but her concern is food safety, along with the rights of property owners. One opponent of the new rules is attorney and homeless advocate Randall Kallinen. He calls the proposed ordinance "oppressive."  Kallinen says the ordinance would limit where the homeless could be fed.  He also says the new rules would now prevent many groups from continuing to feed the homeless after they've done it for years.

"The ACLU and the NLG, National Lawyers Guild, are will to provide legal support to prevent this assault on freedom of religion, freedom of expression."

Supporting Kallinen's efforts is Nick Cooper with Houston Food Not Bombs, an organization that has fed the homeless for over a decade. Cooper says the rules would hamper the group's efforts to serve home-cooked vegetarian meals.

"This would add hours and hours to the workdays of busy volunteers who are trying to get meals out to the homeless."

Coming out in support of the ordinance is City Councilman James Rodriguez, who says the city is not trying to end the practice of feeding the homeless, but the intent is to do it in an organized and dignified manner. Rodriguez adds though that a lot more needs to be done to help people on the streets.

"We need more housing.  We need the VA to step up, to start serving our veterans."

The proposed ordinance is on Wednesday's city council agenda.

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