Apparently, maintaining a proper trash can is apparently more important than feeding the homeless in Houston, Texas.
At least, that’s how it appears after James Kelly, a 44-year-old homeless vet, was so hungry that he was driven to digging into the trash to find his next meal. Earlier this month, he made the mistake of doing this in a trash bin near Houston City Hall. For that, he received a citation from a Houston police officer that charged him with “disturbing the contents of a garbage can in (the) downtown district.”
Really? Police officers in Houston have nothing better to do than issue citations to the homeless who are driven to desperately searching in the trash for food?
Houston Law: Don’t Touch The Trash
The Houston Police Department (HPD) later issued a short statement: “The ordinance is specific to the Central Business District. It is a violation for anyone to remove any contents of any bin, bag or other container that has been placed for collection of garbage, trash or recyclable materials. An officer has probable cause to issue such a citation when a person is seen opening a lid and rummaging through contents of a dumpster or trash can.”
Why on earth would anyone create such an ordinance?
According to Alternet,
The Chronicle traced the law back to 1942, when it was delightfully titled ”molesting garbage containers.” A 1988 rewrite expanded legal protection from molestation to recyclables, and over the last 2 decades it’s become increasingly restrictive as municipalities have become more and more committed to purging the homeless from city centers.
There’s another contributing factor: in 2012, Houston passed a law banning the feeding of the poor without proper registration. The homeless can no longer rely on the kindness of strangers because such acts are illegal, unless those strangers are registered.
Does this sound as crazy to you as it does to me?
Houston Law: Don’t Feed The Homeless
More from Houston’s News 92 FM:
The voluntary homeless feeding ordinance was passed last April in a 11-6 vote by Houston City Council. The program moves for registration of formal and informal food service organizations, free food handling training by the city’s Department of Health and Human Services, and coordination of locations and times of feeding.
Registrants are also required to obtain the consent of public or private property owners before distributing food.
So, first Houston takes away the homeless person’s option of a helping hand from a stranger, and next the city turns the homeless into criminals when they search for food in dumpsters. Whatever happened to compassion and respect?
This criminalization of the homeless is not just happening in Houston:
* The city of Atlanta conducted a sting operation in 2008, when police officers went undercover as tourists and office workers, to snag anyone begging. At that time, the city had banned panhandling within 15 feet of an ATM, bus stop, pay phone to public toilet, and anywhere at all after dark.
* More than 50 cities, including Atlanta, Phoenix, San Diego, Los Angeles, Miami, Oklahoma City have adopted some kind of anti-camping or anti-food-sharing laws, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty.
* Gary Williams just spent 30 days in jail, because on two occasions a San Francisco police officer found him slumped over, asleep, on a milk crate. Even though he had no camping gear with his, he was charged with unauthorized lodging and public nuisance, his lawyer, Andrea Lindsay, told AlterNet.
Laws that restrict panhandling are designed to target poor people living on the street. Other examples of such laws include bans on sitting or lying down on the sidewalk, eating in public, setting up camp or sleeping in a park or other public places. Most advocates for the homeless believe that these laws are created in order to push the homeless out of sight.
If you believe that searching in a trash can for food is not a criminal act, please sign our petition, asking the Houston Police Department to withdraw their citation. Kelly is due in court on April 10.
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Photo Credit: screenshot from NBC News