HOUSTON MAYOR ANNISE PARKER SELECTIVE IN WHO CAN BE SERVED AT THE DOWNTOWN HOUSTON LIBRARY---THE CRUEL ANTI-FOOD SHARING WITH THE HOMELESS LAW WILL HELP DEFINE MAYOR PARKER'S LEGACY
I got an e-mail recently from the City of Houston about Bike to Work Day in Houston.
Here is a portion of that e-mail---
Mayor Parker has declared Friday, May 9, 2014 as Bike to Work Day to encourage riders to choose pedal power for their daily commute to work and to raise awareness of the City's bikeway network. An organized Bike to Work ride will depart from Memorial Park and end at the Downtown Central Library where there will be a brief presentation by Mayor Parker and Director of Sustainability Laura Spanjian. Air up your tires, put on your best riding attire and meet at Memorial Park. Then enjoy breakfast at the Downtown Central Library after the ride.
I've got no problem with Bike to Work Day.
What strikes me here is the irony of serving up free food at the Downtown Library for those in their "best riding attire", while Mayor Parker and Houston City Council passed the cruel anti-food sharing ordinance in 2012.
One thing this law sought to do was stop the sharing of food with the homeless by Food Not Bombs-Houston that took place in the front of the library.
This law criminalized many acts of sharing food with the poor and homeless in these difficult economic times.
Nick Cooper of Food Not Bombs Houston recently wrote the opinion column you see below for the Houston Chronicle that offers facts about the law and about Mayor Parker's record in regards to those most in need in Houston.
When Ms. Parker's time as Mayor is assessed after her time in office is over, the anti-food sharing ordinance will be a large and mean-spirited part of her final record.
From Mr. Cooper---
Mayor Annise Parker has been claiming victories over homelessness and lauding her own initiatives.
But as a volunteer who works in the streets with people a block away from City Hall, I hear a different story.
This disconnect is nothing new - when the mayor proposed a new ordinance to restrict sharing food in public in 2012, dozens of current and former homeless people came to City Council to speak out against it.
However, the mayor listened instead to downtown real estate owners who want the homeless out of sight.
I volunteer with Houston Food Not Bombs, a no-budget group that shares vegetarian food on certain weeknights and Sunday evenings in the downtown library courtyard. We redirect healthy food that would otherwise be discarded by restaurants, supermarkets and bakeries.
Like other groups offering food with no strings attached, we are able to reach people who don't go to shelters. Our approach is more personal than most institutions, which is what some folks need.
In my decade of volunteering, countless homeless have said that our meals are better than those at highly funded shelters. Also, the homeless frequently express dislike of shelters because of issues of safety, food quality, religious proselytizing, loss of belongings and separation from partners.
On March 31, Parker was a guest on the KUHF-FM show "Houston Matters." A caller asked why she criminalized "giving out food to the homeless people over a certain number." The mayor trashed the question. "Saying something over and over again really doesn't make it true, or right, or accurate," she said.
However, the law, Chapter 20-19 of the Houston Code of Ordinances, explicitly criminalizes sharing food with more than five people in public by anyone lacking prior permission from the city to do so. A diverse coalition opposed this law from the beginning, and its members have become accustomed to these types of responses from Parker - labeling our portrayals of this ordinance as inaccurate.
"Making it easier for someone to stay on the street is not humane; it's not right," Parker continued. To her, groups like ours facilitate homelessness because, she says, we "keep them on the street longer, which is what happens when you feed them."
She seems to think that all of those seeking food in public are homeless. Many, however, have homes and employment but lack money for food.
For those who are homeless, her suggestion that we should intentionally impose hunger on them to push them into shelters is a terrible idea. Food insecurity triggers crimes of desperation. Those who lack access to the massive quantities of safe food around them already resort to digging through trash, robbing and even fighting over food, sometimes with lethal consequences.
Surprisingly, Parker also praised us, naming Food Not Bombs as one of many "wonderful agencies." She explained that the city just wants to coordinate groups sharing in public, because, "you could have the same group of homeless people that were fed by three different groups on the same day, and yet there are folks on the other side of town who really need the resources."
I am lost. Are the groups sharing food in the streets "wonderful" or "inhumane?" If what we do is "not right," why is the city trying to help us reach even more people?
The mayor tries to portray the food-sharing ordinance as benign and friendly, saying, "All we asked was, 'Would you please just register with the city?' "
No. This ordinance comes with potential penalties of $2,000 fines per volunteer every time they share food with more than five people in public without prior city permission. It infringes on the freedoms of religion, association and assembly, and stifles volunteerism.
From the mayor's detached position, threatening volunteers with penalties of more money than they make in a month is equivalent to a polite question. It is not.
Maybe the mayor's initiative is reducing homelessness in Houston, but I haven't seen it. Since the law went into effect, the line of hungry people has only gotten longer.
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