Column, 329 words

The New Crime of Eating While Homeless

Jim Hightower

Whenever one of our cities gets a star turn as host of some super-sparkly event, such as a national political gathering or the Super Bowl, its first move is to tidy up — by having the police sweep homeless people into jail, out of town, or under some rug.

But Houston’s tidy-uppers aren’t waiting for a world-class event to rationalize going after homeless down-and-outers. They’ve preemptively outlawed the “crime” of dumpster diving in the Texan city.

SamPac/Flickr

SamPac/Flickr

In March, James Kelly, a 44-year-old Navy veteran, was passing through Houston on his way to connect with family in California. Homeless, destitute, and hungry, he chose to check out the dining delicacies in a trash bin near City Hall. Spotted by police, Kelly was promptly charged with “disturbing the contents of a garbage can in the [central] business district.” Seriously.

“I was just basically looking for something to eat,” he told the Houston Chronicle. But, unbeknownst to both this indigent tourist and the great majority of Houston’s generally generous citizens, an ordinance dating way back to 1942 says that “molesting garbage containers” is illegal.

Also, in 2012, city officials made it a crime for any group to hand out food to the needy in the downtown area without first getting a permit. It’s a cold use of legal authority to chase the homeless away to…well, anywhere else.

Such laws are part of an effort throughout the country to criminalize what some call “homeless behavior.” And, sure enough, when hungry, the behavioral tendency of a homeless human is to seek a bite of nourishment, often in such dining spots as dumpsters. The homeless behavior that Houston has outlawed, then, is eating.

The good news is that when Houstonians learned of Kelly’s situation, many reached out to help him get through his hard times. Now they need to reach out to local politicos and get the city to stop cracking down on this abuse of homeless people.

OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He’s also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown. OtherWords.org

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  • Joe

    I wonder how many warrants to search homes Houston police have secured, through apparently illegal means, in the past 70 years by rifling through the owners’ garbage cans. This is a common law enforcement tactic.

    • Devlin McDonaldson

      they rifle through my cans, they will be sifting vast quantities of filthy used cat litter….the ammonia is so strong it makes the eyes water.

  • Bree Vee

    This government is creating homeless people by the thousands and then wants the homeless to not eat or sleep anywhere in view of others. So were would they have the homeless go? These people wouldn’t be homeless if the bailouts and handouts to big corporations went to helping people find work and a place to live that they could afford. Its fine for these people raking in great paychecks on the tax payers dime to make laws against those with nothing. These people need to taste the life of someone who lost a job and then lost everything in this economy.

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  • thomas jefferson

    THE LORD already warned,what you do to the poor,..YOU DO TO ME,…you christians LEAVE HOUSTON NOW,the LORD will level it,they will get what they have dished out,THANKS HOUSTON POLICE GANG,you have killed everyone in houston with your extreme stupidity,including your own family…………………..

  • thomas jefferson

    IF I were from TEXAS,I sure wouldn’t brag about it to no one,this shows just how low the I.Q.of texans really is……………………………………

    • JoBoB

      No actually you cockholster it shows the low I.Q. of some of the people that happen to be in charge both currently and in the past. If you were to reveal what state you are from I GUARANTEE fodder could easily be found with which to castigate your state. If anything your lack of punctuation skill, grammar usage “I sure wouldn’t brag about it to no one”… double negative you moron, and spacing illustrates your lack of intelligence. Next time you want to call people out on their intelligence you should make sure you’re not even dumber than those you accuse, or at least don’t display it so openly. Moron.

      • ESGreco

        There’s got to be a way to ask people to watch their language without using words like “moron.” Do you think you could try that next time?

        • JoBoB

          Well dont you think theres a way to let people know that something is a poor decision without calling an entire state out as having a low I.Q.? Yea, if they want to be rude and unnecessary about it then you better believe theres an internet troll out there somewhere to combat the ignorance.

      • http://www.facebook.com/emmett.grogan1 Emmett Grogan

        Hey JoBob,
        you chump, he done did that to bait you and get you to display for all your own , selfish and stupid, unearned condescension, you punk.

        • JoBoB

          Yea Emmet because you know this guy IRL right, and know his motivations without even the slightest doubt! Furthermore Emmet…. “he done did that” is stupid in every sense of the word so your argument was just rendered moot. UNEARNED CONDESCENSION?! Are you kidding me!? If you wanna try to use a pitifully low I.Q. and vocabulary to belittle the people I grew up around then you better believe I am going to let you know how I feel about it. My issue isnt with the OP using bad language… It has to do with stereotyping people who live in a certain geological area as having low I.Q. just because of the place they happened to be born in. That alone demonstrates a grand incompetence which i felt the need to call out, allbeit passionately :D

        • JoBoB

          Actually I dont think I made enough of a point of how ignorant you sound with that one small sentence Emmett. From beginning to end that sentence just stinks of backwoods redneck with no more than a 5th grade education, one might think. I mean the last half of that sentence doesnt even string together, “to display for all your own , selfish and stupid, unearned condescension, you punk.”. For all my own what? Ok perhaps my own Texan peoples, maybe. Then how about the last part, where the hell were you going with that? Just felt like tossing out a couple jabs? You should really try to work those into a more comprehensive and well thought out idea and actually explain what your issue with my rationale is exactly.

    • TroubleCominEveryday

      Jim Hightower is from Texas and lives in Austin, do you think he has a low IQ?

    • JoBoB

      This is my original reply to thomas jefferson, it seems to have been misplaced. No problem disqus, I got this :D “No actually you cockholster it shows the low I.Q. of some of the people
      that happen to be in charge both currently and in the past. If you were
      to reveal what state you are from I GUARANTEE fodder could easily be
      found with which to castigate your state. If anything your lack of
      punctuation skill, grammar usage “I sure wouldn’t brag about it to no
      one”… double negative you moron, and spacing illustrates your lack of
      intelligence. Next time you want to call people out on their
      intelligence you should make sure you’re not even dumber than those you
      accuse, or at least don’t display it so openly. Moron.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/ChuckieBoy1 Chuck Jagoda

    I think Houstonians have made a brilliant breakthrough in social engineering. I refer the geniuses-in-charge to Jonathan Swift’s A MODEST PROPOSAL wherein he proposed a solution to Irish poverty. It’s this sort of innovative problems solving–in the tradition off-shoring of American jobs, criminalizing peaceful political protest, and extreme prosecution of whistelblowers–that can truly move this country backwards in the areas of social progress, moral conscience, and perhaps even re-access the stone age. Perhaps the Houston City Council should consider using the drones the Federal government so thoughtfully provides to monitor, target, and dispose of former assets (Veterans, older workers, children, abused women, and others) who only USED TO contribute to the bottom line and are now an inconvenience.

  • denverover

    The homeless should be committing acts of civil disobedience to be put in jail on purpose, the cost would shortly teach, the powers that be, that it is easier(and cheaper) to help the poor on the outside, than to care for them on the inside, the numbers of the homeless are great enough to financially cripple the city in no time. Cost of water, food, electricity, manpower, medical care would cause the city coffers to empty like flushing a commode.

    • Privatized jails=criminization

      Are you kidding? The jails and prisons are PRIVATIZED! The corporations want people in prison. This is exactly what they want.

  • John Hayes

    Is it any wonder why hostile governments not much aboe to take care of their own but who allocate funds for humanitarian aid/subversion find a lot of discontented hungry Americans who also need gas and oil for winter heating? Yet, we have found unaccountable scores of billions to build schools, hospitals, roads, bridges and food aid stations in Iraq?

  • John Hayes

    Corporate grocery dumpsters are full of end of code foodstuff because in many counties, it has become illegal to give any type of leftover or surplus EOC items to food charities. so God bless the homeless who decide to care for themselves– we the smug majority won’t. This is the use of food as a weapon, something my Gaelic ancestors knew very much about. Most cubans know a lot about it, and the government of Venezuela is beginning to make war on its’ people using food, as well.

    • http://www.facebook.com/emmett.grogan1 Emmett Grogan

      That is total bullshit about the government of Venezuala, and your reference to “Most Cubans” means what, that they struggle to survive in the face of the Yankee Imperialist blockade for 54 years?

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  • bassboymark

    they want them dead……thats it..

  • voltaic

    Standard feed the wealthy and starve the poor. Crony and unethical politicians fight to keep taxes low on the wealthy and the stomachs empty of the poor and less fortunate. GOP is demanding that food stamps be cut while they cut the taxes of the mega wealthy.

  • anne

    This is simply disgusting. The politicians of Houston should be ashamed of themselves for not tossing this law out decades ago. Even more so, the police officers who are enforcing such a inhumane law should not even be allowed to wear a badge

  • UncleB

    The corpocracy sloughs off the useless flesh in its population cleansings, leaving only the fittest to breed and move forward.

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