Digging Through Public Trash Cans Could Become Legal Soon

A portion of a rummaging ordinance could be revised after a homeless veteran was ticketed for going through a trash can at a city park earlier this month, trying to find something to eat.


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The ordinance was enacted in 1942, to outlaw what was then referred to “molesting garbage containers.” In 2002, as part of the civility ordinance, amendments were added to include all garbage cans. Houston Mayor Annise Parker remembers wanting to eliminate the rummaging rule when she was a councilmember in 2002.

“Many Houstonians don’t like the idea of someone stopping front of their house, opening that black garbage bin and rummaging around in it, so we’re not touching that. I don’t want to criminalize a homeless person, reaching in to pull out an aluminum can to throw in, so that they can make a little money to eat.”

Advocates for the homeless want the city to repeal the ban on digging through open trash cans downtown after a homeless Navy veteran got a ticket for rummaging through one at Hermann Park.

Mayor Parker says she’s ready to only repeal the part of the ordinance that deals with trash receptacles in public places.

“A dumpster behind a grocery store is on private property and trespass laws apply. A dumpster in an apartment complex is generally on private property and again, trespass laws apply. But if you’re in a city park and you want to fish an aluminum out, you ought to be able to do it.”

She says she thought some parts of the ordinance amounted to over-regulation.

“If they make a mess that’s littering, and I can write just the same ticket for littering, that I can for molesting garbage in a trash receptacle.”

Council asked Mayor Parker for permission to take the matter to committee. It could be added to next week’s council agenda for a vote.

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