Homeless Vet Ticketed For Looking For Food In Trash

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.


Related Care2 Coverage

10 Reasons People Sleep Out In The Cold – And Die

Diocese Puts Religious Dogma Before Helping The Homeless

Over One Million U.S. Kids Are Homeless


Photo Credit: screenshot from NBC News


Dan H.
Dan H3 years ago

It should NEVER be a crime to help another person in need. What if the positions or rolls were reversed, wouldn't you like help?

Dan H.
Dan H3 years ago

This is ridiculous to give a citation to someone that is doing no harm to anyone. Is trash so precious that it must be thrown out without being tampered with, it's garbage and it will go in a landfill.
You would think that police would have better things to do rather than harass a veteran who is down on his luck.
Rather than giving him a citation they should have given him a good meal, he deserves at least this much for his service to the free world!

Mary T.
Mary T4 years ago

the officer should have bought the vet a meal.

j sian J.
j sian J4 years ago

This is happening in Madrid, Spain at a time when over 27% of the population is unemploymed with many of them receiving no benefits. Absolutely disgraceful but typical of Madrid's corrupt, inept and heartless government.

Tricia Hamilton
Tricia Hamilton5 years ago

Why was a poor man getting ticketed and why isn't our government taking care of him?
What is wrong with us when we spend millions on animal testing to hurt them and we can't take care of our soldiers, hungry & homeless.

USA..We should be ashamed of ourselves!!

John Hablinski
John Hablinski5 years ago

Scott, many of those with the least are almost bound to the cities in which they live. Someone young and fit with enough money to pay for previsions in advance might make a go in some ghost town if potable water were available but so many of the homeless are needy in so many ways which can only be met in the cities which do not want them. We see these people finding overgrown areas where they set up camp communities because they can’t be easily seen from the streets but there are no city services such as trash pickup and people create trash by the ton and the rapid accumulation of trash invariably gives their camp locations away in rather short order, and the cops and health department turn them out to find somewhere else where they are not wanted. Their alcohol and other drug addictions go untreated as do all their other maladies and they are someone’s father, or mother, or brother, or sister, or son or daughter. They are our armed forces veterans whose claims to the VA have been lost in the paper shuffle because it wasn’t until 2009 when the VA BEGAN to computerize their claims system. Bush 43 put them in harm’s way but left the VA in the 20th century. I’m not proud of all my country does.

janice b.
jan b5 years ago

There are more places that have laws against being homeless than mentioned...because Orlando has a law that you cannot feed the homeless or go to jail.

Once you don't feed them....they'll die off....and no one has to be confronted with this sad-side of America (sarcasm)

Bette M.
Bette M5 years ago

Scott h.....Indeed we Americans do hate the poor. But American sends millions to keep the poor alive in other countrys!
How about school add on a subject about what poverty & being poor is all about. Schools, parents and the media need to wake up the public we have a growing crisis on our hands.
Forget about the small brained movie stars & Hollywood. Show why an education counts. Forget about the Jay Z'S & Beyounce for they are counting the big dollars while the kids are listening to their garbage love songs. You can bet your bottom dollar their daughter will get the best education possible while the poor kids drown in poverty and no sense of direction.
America needs many programs here at home to get the message out:
Finally, America needs to see to it their ex soldiers are taken care of before leaving the service.

Wherever you go there once was a forest.
Plant and protect Danny's trees for life.
Trees are the lungs of the earth.

Scott haakon
Scott haakon5 years ago

This has a other side to it. The business in areas do not want to have bums begging and driving away customers. Nor do cities want these people around. let's face the truth we hate the poor. We do everything to make their lives miserable. It is a crime to be poor.
What state wants to harbor the poor and where? Camping? Unless some federal land is allowed to be "settled" by these people then nothing will be done. There are "ghost towns" far from urban areas that could be utilized. but that costs money. Who is going to pay for it?

Gabriela W.
Gabriela W5 years ago

These people need help. it is a government duty to take care of them, like they took care of their country! Not punished, if the authorities fail to provide a decent living for them!