City of Houston faces federal raps after citing nonprofit for feeding hungry people outside public library

The City of Houston faces a federal charge for allegedly ticketing a nonprofit group’s volunteer for feeding hungry people outside the city library. Image: Jorg Karg|Unsplash

The nonprofit organization "Food Not Bombs" had filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Houston when Houston PD ticketed a volunteer for feeding hungry people outside the Houston Public Library.

According to a Fox26 Houston report, local police issued a citation on March 1 to Benjamin Craft-Rendon when he took part in the organization's weekly handouts to those without food. Craft-Rendon is a volunteer for the nonprofit, his lawyer Randall Kallinen told the news outlet.

Arrested for Feeding the Hungry

Fox26 Houston reported that civil rights attorney Kallinen had sued the city for ticketing his client due to an alleged violation of a city ordinance against feeding people experiencing hunger.

"This is an actual arrestable offense. So not only could he lose his money, he could also lose his liberty. Although I'm a lawyer, and this is a technical thing, it is personal because, at its simplest, they're outlawing feeding people. Do you have to say more? You don't need an explanation. They're outlawing feeding people who are hungry and would like something to eat," Fox26 Houston quoted Kallinen saying.

The lawyer told the news outlet that his client had volunteered for the Houston nonprofit since 2012.

The report disclosed that Food Not Bombs distributes food to the hungry at the corner of Smith and McKinney. Fox 26 added that the organization does the feeding program four times weekly.

Kallinen told the news outlet that they are challenging the ticket issued against his client and the constitutionality of the Anti-Food Sharing Law, which the CIyt of Houston enforces.

Under the said city ordinance, organizations and groups that intend to conduct feeding programs or food handouts for five or more individuals must first secure a permit from the city. Failure to do so could result in a citation, which was what allegedly happened in the case of Craft-Rendon.

Kallinen argues that what his client did is part of his constitutional rights to freedom of religion and speech under the First Amendment.

By issuing his client a ticket for alleged violation of the city ordinance, Kallinen said the City of Houston effectively violated those rights his client is guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution.

Following the incident, the city has decided to designate the Houston Police Central division at 61 Riesner St. as a feeding spot. There, groups like Food Not Bombs could legally hold their feeding activities.

City Issues Response to Federal Lawsuit

Sylvester Turner, Houston city mayor, issued a press statement saying the local police's action against the nonprofit was due to escalating threats against library employees and guests.

"Parents and families have expressed no longer feeling comfortable visiting the library or holding special events. We want the library to serve as a safe, inclusive place for all to come and visit," Turner explains in the statement.

About Food Not Bombs

Its website said Food Not Bombs has "hundreds of autonomous chapters sharing free vegetarian food with hungry people and protesting war and poverty." 

The nonprofit organization has chapters across Australia, Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Americas.

Anti-nuclear activists reportedly established the group in 1980 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The group's volunteers have been subjected to police arrests during its various activities, the website disclosed.

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