The Anti-Media

Unhappy Holidays: Houston Police Force Homeless People to Throw Away Food

This was taken about halfway up the block on the east side of Broadway, between 79th and 80th Street. It's at the north end of the "Filene's Basement" store on the corner, and it's a place where I've often seen homeless people holding up a sign that asks for assistance... With very rare exceptions, I haven't photographed these homeless people; it seems to me that they're in a very defensive situation, and I don't want to take advantage of their situation. But something unusual was happening here: the two women (who were actually cooperating, and acting in tandem, despite the rather negative demeanor of the woman on the left) were giving several parcels of food to the young homeless man on the right. I don't know if the women were bringing food from their own kitchen, or whether they had brought it from a nearby restaurant. But it was obviously a conscious, deliberate activity, and one they had thousght about for some time... What was particularly interesting was that they didn't dwell, didn't try to have a conversation with the young man;they gave him they food they had brought, and promptly walked away. As they left, I noticed the young man peering into his bag (the one you see on the ground beside him in this picture) to get a better sense of the delicious meal these two kind women had brought him... ********************** This is part of an evolving photo-project, which will probably continue throughout the summer of 2008, and perhaps beyond: a random collection of "interesting" people in a broad stretch of the Upper West Side of Manhattan -- between 72nd Street and 104th Street, especially along Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue. I don't like to intrude on people's privacy, so I normally use a telephoto lens in order to photograph them while they're still 50-100 feet away from me; but that means I have to continue focusing my attention on the people and activities half a block away, rather than on what's right in front of me. I've also learned that, in many cases, the opportunities for an interesting picture are very fleeting -- literally a matter of a couple of seconds, before the person(s) in question move on, turn away, or stop doing whatever was interesting. So I've learned to keep the camera switched on (which contradicts my traditional urge to conserve battery power), and not worry so much about zooming in for a perfectly-framed picture ... after all, once the digital image is uploaded to my computer, it's pretty trivial to crop out the parts unrelated to the main subject. For the most part, I've deliberately avoided photographing bums, drunks, drunks, and crazy people. There are a few of them around, and they would certainly create some dramatic pictures; but they generally don't want to be photographed, and I don't want to feel like I'm taking advantage of them. I'm still looking for opportunities to take some "sympathetic" pictures of such people, which might inspire others to reach out and help them. We'll see how it goes ... The only other thing I've noticed, thus far, is that while there are lots of interesting people to photograph, there are far, far, *far* more people who are *not* so interesting. They're probably fine people, and they might even be more interesting than the ones I've photographed ... but there was just nothing memorable about them.

On Thursday, the Houston Police Department targeted a group of homeless advocates who were attempting to hand out hot food and gifts to the homeless.

(ANTIMEDIA) Houston, TX — Local activists attempting to hand out food and gifts were shocked on Thursday afternoon when Houston police forced the homeless to throw away the donations.  Around 1 pm on Thursday,  several individuals met in downtown Houston to distribute plates of hot food, blankets, and other supplies to the city’s growing homeless population. Soon after, Houston police arrived on the scene of two different intersections where the homeless advocates were giving out gifts and food.

According to witness testimony posted on Facebook, the police instructed the homeless to throw away everything they had been given. Not only were the police called, but they brought a large waste management truck and are forcing the homeless to throw away their food, pillows and other items,” reads one post.

A video from an ABC13 social media correspondent shows the police and trash vehicle parked under a freeway while a man narrates the situation. “Covers, Blankets, different things like that, pillows. They are throwing all of that away,” he says.

Shere Dore, a local activist who works with several organizations, including Food Not Bombs Houston, was involved in the food sharing and says the throwing away of the gifts was uncalled for. “I’m highly disturbed because lots of these items were not only given to the homeless by the community, but some of the blankets and jackets were literally purchased by homeless advocates like myself,” Dore told Anti-Media. “HPD and the City of Houston are taking our cash and throwing it in the trash. At what point will our police stand up and say that this is wrong to do to people?

Only moments before throwing away the gifts, the Houston police stopped Dore and a fellow advocate. Dore said her friend was taking photos of the police vehicle when the officer began questioning them, claiming someone had called and complained about people feeding the homeless. In a video posted on Facebook, Dore tells the officer she will feed the homeless whether it is legal or not.

These types of situations are likely to increase in Houston due to a 2012 city ordinance prohibiting the sharing of food with more than five people at a time without fulfilling certain requirements created by city council. The controversial measure, known as the “Anti-Food Sharing” ordinance by critics, was passed in 2012 despite resistance from one of the largest coalitions of political, activist, and religious organizations in Houston. The criticisms of the ordinance range from beliefs that it represents an attack on the homeless population to assertions it is another example of government restricting freedom.

The ordinance requires applicants to fill out a form and seek permission to feed someone while on someone else’s private property. If you would like to feed someone in a public park you must fill out another form. The city argues that feeding the homeless food that has not been cooked in a certified kitchen could spread illness and that feeding them is only enabling homelessness. Although Houston police have yet to issue a citation for violation of the ordinance, it has been an issue of concern among activists since the moment it passed. In late November, ABC13 reported that activists delivered 75,000 signed petitions to City Hall calling for the repeal of the ordinance.

As Houston prepares to host the National Football League’s Super Bowl 51, there is concern that the homeless population will be forced out of the downtown area or subject to increased harassment from the police.  In November AP reported, “fences have gone up and dozens homeless people living under a Houston freeway overpass have been ordered out amid speculation the city is trying to make the area more presentable as it prepares to host the Super Bowl early next year.” The Texas Transportation Department claims the move was not related to the Super Bowl and insists they were responding to safety concerns for drivers and pedestrians.

If the City of Houston is attempting to remove the homeless for their incoming sports event/ economic boom, it would not be the first. In April 2016 the International Business Times reported on the Brazilian government’s attempts to beautify parts of Rio at the expense of the homeless and other at-risk groups.

“‘Cleaning the streets,’ as the project is euphemistically known, is not an effort to haul garbage but to sweep away homeless people and drug dealers — including the often drug-addicted children who live on the sidewalks of some of Rio’s wealthiest neighborhoods.

Advocates for homeless youth say children are being detained arbitrarily by police — or in some cases simply vanishing. They warn that the “cleanup” is likely to make life worse than ever for the thousands of children who have already been forced out of their homes by abuse or desperate poverty.”

Rio and Houston are not alone in their mistreatment of homeless individuals. In October 2014,   the National Coalition for the Homeless released a report that found 21 U.S. cities have passed measures restricting feeding of the homeless since January 2013.

As we enter the “holiday season,” take a few moments to reflect on whatever abundance you have in your life and think of those who have less. If the police, city officials, and sports-obsessed public have their way, those without a home (by choice or circumstance) will be harassed, pushed out, and eventually rounded up. Let’s each do what we can to prevent this nightmare from becoming reality.


This article (Unhappy Holidays: Houston Police Force Homeless People to Throw Away Food) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Derrick Broze and theAntiMedia.org. Anti-Media Radio airs weeknights at 11 pm Eastern/8 pm Pacific. Image credit: Ed Yourdon. If you spot a typo, please email the error and name of the article at edits@theantimedia.org.