James Kelly was just hoping to retrieve a discarded donut from the trash. But the homeless Houston man was served a ticket instead.

The Navy veteran was cited on March 7 for “disturbing the contents of a garbage can,” because he had been rummaging through the bin for something to eat, KPRC reports. Outraged activists have stepped forward to support Kelly, including the ACLU, which is going to represent him in court, free of charge.

“Anybody that desires to see someone else go hungry, just has no heart,” Kelly told KPRC.

The statute that prohibits people from digging through the trash has been around since 1942 and supporters say it’s critical in keeping the streets clean, the Houston Chronicle Reported. Most officers say that they wouldn’t cite someone for taking food from a dumpster, though.

"I know on the face of it, it sounds very cruel," Ray Hunt, president of the Houston Police Officers' Union, told the Chronicle. "It's not officers being inhumane. It's police officers responding to citizens' complaints about someone removing garbage from their garbage can, and leaving it on the ground. It's creating a mess."

But this incident reeks of another legal issue that advocates are calling foul.

Last year, the Houston City Council ruled that people can’t publicly feed the homeless without the consent of property owners and the city.

The law poses risks for both those living on the streets and activists trying to feed those in need. The maximum penalty for people who violate the law is a misdemeanor charge and a $500 fine, a penalty many nonprofits simply can’t afford, the Daily Caller reported.

Despite the risks, many homeless advocates say they are willing to take their chances in order to keep people from going hungry.

“I have never been one to break the law,” Amber Rodriguez, executive director of Noah’s Kitchen in Houston, told the Daily Caller. “But if I see people who need food, I am going to feed them.”

As activists continue to go to bat for Kelly, and other homeless people in similar predicaments, they may find some comfort in the way other cities have handled controversial homeless legislation.

Back in August of last year, a federal judge blocked Philadelphia Mayor Nutter’s proposed ban of feeding homeless people along a major parkway, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

"It hardly needs to be said that plaintiffs' food-sharing programs benefit the public interest," District Judge William H. Yohn Jr., wrote. "Despite [the city's] considerable efforts, many Philadelphians remain homeless and hungry."

Also on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • 12-Year-Old Arrested For Doodling On Desk

    12-year-old Queens resident Alexa Gonzalez <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/02/05/desk-doodling-arrest-alex_n_450859.html">was taken away in handcuffs</a> after writing “Lex was here. 2/1/10" and “I love my friends Abby and Faith" on her desk. The best part: She used an erasable marker. Even better: she also drew a smiley face.

  • 12-Year-Old Arrested For Opening Christmas Present Early

    A 12-year-old South Carolina boy was arrested after his mother phoned police to say he had <a href="http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/1205062xmas1.html">opened one of his Christmas presents early</a>. Police arrived and actually charged the boy with petty larceny for opening an $85 Game Boy against his family's wishes. What a Christmas! We're wondering if he at least got to keep the game boy?

  • 15-Year-Olds Threatened With Charges For Semi-Nude Self-Portraits

    Marissa Miller of Pennsylvania was shocked when investigators said <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/26/us/26sextext.html?_r=1&em">she might be facing child pornography charges</a> after a "provocative" photo of her and a friend (from the waist-up, wearing bras) was found on someone else's cell phone. The girls were forced to take a 10-hour class about pornography or be faced with charges of sexual abuse of a minor (themselves?), which would include registering as sex offenders.

  • 13-Year-Old Arrested For Farting

    A 13 year old boy was <a href="http://www.tcpalm.com/news/2008/nov/21/report-martin-county-student-arrested-passing-gas-/"> arrested in Florida after passing gas</a> in the classroom and turning off his classmate's computers. He was charged with "Disruption of school function." Haven't these people ever heard of detention?

  • Chicago Middle Schoolers Arrested For Food Fight

    Dozens of 11 to 15-year-olds were <a href="http://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local-beat/Kids-Arrested-for-Food-Fight-69575092.html"> arrested in Chicago because of a food fight</a> that broke out in the school cafeteria. Reports say "Someone tossed a piece of food, someone else threw an orange, someone yelled 'Food fight!,' and chaos ensued." The students were held at the police station for over 5 hours before parents were notified. What we want to know is if 5 hours was long enough for the police to get the initial food-thrower to break.

  • 10-Year-Old Arrested For Bringing Steak, Steak Knife To School

    A 10-year-old Florida girl <a href="http://www.wftv.com/news/14858405/detail.html">was arrested for bringing a steak knife to school</a>. The girl used the knife to cut a steak that she had brought for lunch and did not use it in any other way, nor did she show it off. The principal suspended her for 10 days and she faces a felony charge for possession of a weapon on school property. If she had known better she would have just torn the steak apart with her hands and teeth, but we guess she had to be "cool."

  • 14-Year-Old Arrested For Texting In Class

    Math class can be boring, so a 14-year-old Wisconsin girl thought she'd pass the time by texting. When asked to stop, she continued until security officers came and <a href="http://news.cnet.com/8301-17852_3-10166100-71.html">arrested her under the charge of disorderly conduct</a>. The best part? When officers asked for the phone they had pleasure of removing it from her "buttocks area."

  • Autistic Girl Arrested For Wearing Cow Costume

    This 8-year-old girl with Asperger's Syndrome <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=6640478&page=1"> was arrested for battery</a> after being told she couldn't wear her cow-themed sweatshirt to an elementary school holiday party. She fought back teachers who forcefully restrained her and was taken away in handcuffs, asking "What are batteries?"

  • Girl Arrested For Dropping Cake On Floor

    As if they had never seen a cafeteria line before, California school security guards restrained and <a href="http://infowars.net">arrested a 16-year-old girl after she dropped a piece of cake</a> on the floor while in line at the cafeteria. Apparently she refused to clean it up so naturally, they broke her arm. We'd hate to see what these guards would do in a food fight.