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'Feed A Friend,' A Program To Feed Homeless, Shut Down By Houston Health Department

Feeding The Homeless

First Posted: 01/17/11 07:01 PM ET Updated: 05/25/11 07:25 PM ET

"Give a man a fish," and you may get served with a citation.

A volunteer group that distributed food to the homeless was shut down by the the Houston Health and Human Services Department, reported The Houston Chronicle.

Houston volunteers Bobby and Amanda Herring operated their "Feed a Friend" program undisturbed for over a year before officials shut it down. Amanda told the Chronicle that she was incredulous over the timing.

"I'm just really sad. I can't believe for a year we were right out in the open and never had anybody tell us to leave, to stop, to tell us it was wrong. I'm blindsided with it."

The volunteers said that they cleaned up the surrounding area where they fed those in need. However, because they used food prepared by local volunteers in informal settings, their philanthropy wasn't up to code.

Kathy Barton of the Health and Human Services department told the Chronicle the reasoning behind the codes. She said that along with the food itself needing to be certified, it had to be prepared in a certified area as well, all for the good of the homeless.

"Poor people are the most vulnerable to foodborne illness and also are the least likely to have access to health care."

Along with the cost of bringing their program in line with city code, Bobby Herring told CNN that the permit would cost about $17 per day of operation. They rely on volunteerism and donations just to provide the food. Herring was unsure of where the additional funds could come from.

"There's no government funding or church funding. It's purely organic."

The Herrings are not alone. A battle erupted in Los Angeles, Calif. last year over the same themes.

In June of 2010, members of World Agape Church were approached by law enforcement and health department officials after operating their Skid Row soup line for over five years. They were shut down due to lack of permit, like the Houston program.

After joining together with the Los Angeles Community Action Network, World Agape members connected with other activist groups that experienced similar treatment and claimed a perceptible rise in police citations.

Local public health officials maintained that the volunteer groups had inadequate provisions and disregarded safety regulations. According to the LA Times, LAPD Officer Deon Joseph equated feeding homeless persons with enabling crime and drug culture.

"When you give them food in an area where there are so many other resources for foods, you're incentivizing the streets and keeping them on the streets and nearer to their vices, like drugs."

Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry told the LA Times that she supported the law enforcement's position.

"Feeding people on the street is not hygienic, it's not sanitary, it's not good for their health."

Unhappy with liaison attempts with their local government, community activists organized an event in protest. On Sept. 30, "The Right To Share Food Extravaganza" was held on Towne Avenue in Skid Row.

Volunteers distributed food and services freely, with no reported incidents of unrest. Local police and public department officials did not inhibit or shut down the event.

Michael Hubman, a familiar face in Skid Row, has been passing out water to the area homeless for over five years. He helped organize the event and told the LA Times that distributing food to those in need is a part of a citizen's basic freedom.

"We want to exercise and protect our right to share food with our brothers and sisters."
FOLLOW HUFFPOST IMPACT

Filed by Victoria Fine  |