That’s what I get from this whole thing about regulating charitable meals for the homeless. Or else, why the misdemeanor?
But the rules on the way to council tomorrow (see item 10) have been characterized by opponents as criminalizing charity because of the fines of up to $2,000 for violations of the new rules.
I can understand, and even appreciate, the public spin of the intent to have safe food and cleaner facilities; however, we’re talking about nonprofit organizations attempting to help people. As the regs go:
The rules would:
- Limit feeding of the homeless on public property to Tranquillity Park, Peggy’s Point Plaza Park and a park on Chartres Street just north of Minute Maid Park. Written authorization of the property owner would be required for feedings on private property.
- Require feeding organizations to register with the city and to take a food safety training class.
- Require that the food be served within four hours of preparation (or removal from temperature control).
- Mandate that the feeding site be left “in a clean, waste-free, litter-free condition.”
- Make violations a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $50 to $2,000.
Don’t get me started on “feedings,” but giving HPD (or an inspector) a license to arrest or ticket helping organizations seems a bit, no, it is too much. As far as the other rules go, there couldn’t be just a simple agreement between the City and the organizations? A criminal penalty is required? Let’s not even talk about the cost of enforcement when we have real crimes to address, especially if HPD only “assists” an inspector.
And how far does this law go? Let’s define “demonstrable need,” because there are other groups who provide charitable meals (see how easy it is to not to say “feedings”?) to day laborers, some who are immigrants, beyond downtown. How would they be affected? And would 287(g) and S-COMM come into play if an overzealous cop were to assist any inspectors? Because we know those overzealous ones exist.
I think the ordinance leaves too much open to interpretation. Maybe the Mayor and some council members might say it is not the intent, but what about when they’re gone? The homeless, or anyone else in need, should never fear some sort of raid when all they want is a little sustenance. And neither should those who give from the heart.
Mayor and Council, please reconsider and come up with a better way of addressing this issue.
UPDATE: The ordinance was delayed for a couple of weeks.
Council members Oliver Pennington and Jack Christie said they would like to hold off on mandatory rules until after a campaign that promotes voluntary compliance with some of the proposed rules, such as clean-up of the sites where food is served.
I would say get rid of the excessive fine and criminal penalty, too.