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We need a much fuller public conversation about the homeless feeding ordinance

As Neil noted, some of us had the opportunity on Friday to ask Mayor Parker questions over lunch on Friday. Not surprisingly, the homeless feeding ordinance came up, and we spent quite a bit of time discussing it. The Mayor shared a lot of information about the ordinance and its history, most of which I’d say none of us knew about before. I don’t know if she changed anyone’s mind – Neil, clearly, remains unconvinced about it – but I certainly felt like I understood it better afterward, and I daresay everyone else there did as well.

That’s good for us, but everything we heard needs to be much more widely disseminated and discussed, because as I’ve been saying there’s really only been one side of this issue out there for people to hear. I wasn’t taking notes and I don’t want to attribute anything to the Mayor that I can’t be sure about, so I’ll be brief and broad about what I heard. There were numerous meetings with various stakeholders such as organizations that provide services for the homeless as well as neighborhood interests, all of whom wanted to encourage a more efficient means of providing services to the homeless and to deal with some of the problems that they were facing with the way things were currently being done. The ordinance passed unanimously out of committee; it was only after it passed out of committee that the crap hit the fan. Mayor Parker said they were completely blindsided by the opposition, and dropped the ball in responding to it.

I certainly agree with that, and as I said before, there’s plenty of blame to go around for that. But even if there weren’t now a movement to try to repeal that ordinance, we would still need to be talking about what it is and isn’t, and why it was brought up in the first place. I’ve been complaining about how no pro-ordinance voices have been heard in the coverage of this story, so I made an effort to try and find a few such voices. One person I heard from lives in EaDo near Congress and St Emanual where there’s a soup kitchen that draws a large crowd at night. He named several problems that he has had to deal with, including trash – both he and Mayor Parker cited a figure of $175,000 that the East Downtown Management District has had to pay to clean up the trash resulting from food distribution; people urinating on his and other people’s property since there isn’t any other place for them to go; traffic being blocked by the sheer number of people showing up to be fed; and drug dealers showing up to take advantage of the opportunity presented by the large crowd. The gentleman stressed that he wants homeless folks to get the help they need, but not literally in his front yard. (My paraphrase, not his words.) He said he testified for the ordinance before Council and that he believed it would help him with his situation.

I also received the following statement from Advantage BMW, which is on West Gray at Caroline:

Advantage BMW is located in an area with a significant homeless population (1300) and a concentration of 15 non-profit agencies that provide services to them. Yet, many well-meaning citizens drop by to provide them with food. This sometimes occurs even when they are in-line for services from one of the nearby non-profits.

Due to our location, we see many citizens dropping by and offering food and supplies to our homeless neighbors. This creates a sense of chaos that includes litter, unhygienic conditions and a desire to remain in the area.

Our company, like so many other businesses, is committed to caring for Houstonians. However, we believe that the Ordinance recently passed by City Council is a step in the right direction to coordinate services in the best interests of those that need them most.

I had a few other inquiries out about this, but these are the responses I was able to get. You can make of them what you will, and however you take their words the ordinance that was actually passed may or may not be a good idea and may or may not achieve the goals that they hope it will. I’m just trying to understand this a little better, and to do that I need to know more than I did at the time this thing passed. What I’ve learned is that there’s a neighborhood aspect to this that has otherwise been completely ignored in the reporting. Whatever else you may think about this ordinance, neighborhoods asking for help dealing with their issues is as common an occurrence at Council as anything. Again, you can evaluate their claims as you see fit, and you can agree or disagree with the remedy that has been passed. All I’m saying is that we can’t have a productive conversation about how we got here and where we should go from here without having full information. I hope I’ve helped take a small step towards achieving that. I hope others will join me in that.

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4 Comments

  1. Jules says:

    Are minutes/video of the committee meetings on it? That might be interesting.

  2. JJ says:

    It will be repealed by the voters in the Nov election.

  3. Beatitudes says:

    I know this is a business and the trash can be an issue. However, there shouldn’t be a law with fine put in place to prevent people who care about the less fortunate. Most of the citizens are christians. The Holy Bible has scriptures that mentions this category of individuals with instructions on how to serve them. The restriction will cause a conflict in our belief system to God the sovereign king. Someone who made this as a suggestion doesn’t exemplify christian priniciples or forgotten what’s important. I will continue to feed the hungry even if it cost my life. I will not allow a car dealership to make a vast decision for the entire city of Houston. IF protesting is needed, then by means we will protest on BMW car lot

  4. Nick Cooper says:

    > There were numerous meetings with various stakeholders such as organizations that provide services for the homeless as well as neighborhood interests, all of whom wanted to encourage a more efficient means of providing services to the homeless and to deal with some of the problems that they were facing with the way things were currently being done.

    This characterization by the Mayor is inaccurate. I attended the service provider focus group and we were unanimous in our opposition to any strategy that included any criminalization of volunteers. We made all sorts of recommendations about what a better strategy might look like, but we were not just ignored — our meeting was co-opted. It is similar when environmental groups attend meetings on climate change — afterwards, although none of their recommendations are acted on, their participation in the meetings is touted as if they endorsed the outcome.

    > The ordinance passed unanimously out of committee; it was only after it passed out of committee that the crap hit the fan. Mayor Parker said they were completely blindsided by the opposition, and dropped the ball in responding to it.

    The Mayor had every opportunity to meet with groups that would be affected, and at every turn, instead of taking the time to do so, she pushed the bill through faster than ever.

    > Advantage BMW is located in an area with a significant homeless population (1300) and a concentration of 15 non-profit agencies that provide services to them.

    Advantage BMW moved into a dry area under Pierce Elevated where homeless had been sleeping for decades. They were evicted (http://www.houstonarchitecture.com/haif/topic/1692-homeless-leave-pierce-elevated/) and Advantage came in. The city literally kicked them to the curb and locked the gates. While it is important to take the needs of businesses into account, we should also acknowledge that they can participate in and benefit from displacements of vulnerable populations.

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