HOUSTON – City leaders are considering new regulations for charitable organizations that feed the homeless.
The new rules are scheduled to go before the Houston City Council on Wednesday.
Under the proposed rules, charities would need to register with the city and take a food-safety training class. The meals would have to be served within four hours of preparation, and violations would be misdemeanors, carrying a fine of up to $2,000.
The ordinance would also limit feeding the homeless on public property. It could only be done at Tranquility Park and two other spaces throughout the city. Feeding organizations would need to get written permission to operate on private property.
According to Mayor Annise Parker’s office, Houston has at least 38 organizations known to provide street-feeding services. Coordination of the feeding operations would be handled by the Coalition for the Homeless and the Houston Food Bank.
"This feeding ordinance is about public safety, about efficiency and not wasting food," said Council Member James Rodriguez. "We want to make sure that our homeless population is served healthy food that’s safe."
But some small churches are fighting the possible changes.
"It would basically mean that we’re going to ostracize the homeless and create a leper colony," said Pastor Chris Seay of the Ecclesia Church in Montrose.
Seay said that his ministry would be greatly impacted, since his church spends a lot of time reaching out to the homeless throughout the city.
One of the people who have benefited, Seay said, is Donald Collins, a man who’s been on the streets for most of the last 16 years.
"Those people need to be fed," Collins said. "The people trying to feed them—their hands are being tied by the city."
The San Antonio City Council passed restrictions on feeding the homeless in order to consolidate services at the Haven for Hope center two years ago.
The city-run shelter can house more than 900 people and provides work training to help them get back on their feet.