In Houston, activists for the homeless are coming under increasing crackdowns from the city, which is fining them for the act of giving out food. This crackdown is part of Mayor Sylvester Turner’s vow to “retake” the downtown branch of Houston Public Library from “homeless folk and feeding programs” to make it more “wholesome and inviting to families and to kids.“ Turner’s formulation is based on the implicit lie that homeless people are not part of the public, have no families of their own, and that using force to push them even further to the margins with no support or food makes the library more “wholesome.” Three activists have now been issued tickets from the police for their aid program.
Turner has ordered the organization Food Not Bombs, which has been distributing food, to move their operations to an HPD parking lot: an insulting proposition to activists and the homeless alike. A federal lawsuit has now been filed to challenge the 2012 law Turner is using to justify the city’s cruel actions.
Liberation News spoke with Shere Dore, an organizer with Food Not Bombs Houston. Dore has been advocating for the city’s homeless for over a decade.
Liberation News: What impact would Turner’s “overtaking” of this area have on the communities that rely on FNB’s food distribution?
Dore: Not only do we have a disabled community who are homeless, but we have people who received housing who still come eat because they may not qualify for food stamps, nor do they have an income. [S]o people know where they can go to get an actual meal, real food that will fill them up. Reliability has been constant for us. Removing us would greatly impact our displaced community with 70-200+ people eating there 6 nights a week. Numbers vary depending on the night we (and others) serve.
LN: Why do you think Turner cares more about some hypothetical “wholesomeness” or “family friendliness” than he does about meeting the needs of those communities that rely on FNB?
Dore: Turner wants to make executive library staff happy. Over the last decade, the executive staff have been doing everything to have FNB removed and created “rules” that only apply to the homeless. Example: homeless people can only come in with two bags, nothing more. We know very well that if someone like you or I came in with 3 bags, they’d say nothing. Turner has also stated he’s reduced homelessness by 60%. It doesn’t look like that when you have 250 people showing up Tuesday nights, or 100 people showing up on Sunday nights. A lot of this is optics. With Final Four [NCAA basketball finals] coming, keep in mind Turner’s statement about how he doesn’t want the homeless and public to collide. It speaks volumes on how he sees the homeless. He’s passed more anti-homeless laws than any other mayor in Houston. His actions definitely prove his stance over his words used about our homeless.
LN: What’s FNB plans moving forward given this totally inhumane attempted displacement?
Dore: Food Not Bombs (and the 2 additional groups who are Muslim brothers and sisters) have stated that none of us are going to move. Turner has claimed that Food Not Bombs Houston “pimps the poor.” He actually said this. This matter seems very personal to him. He’s not been able to win at any level concerning FNB. He’s termed out [he cannot run for another term] so he has nothing to lose at this point. I feel he will be turning up the heat in the coming weeks as we near the Final Four. FNBH is prepared for it. He is going to get frustrated because we will still be serving and receiving tickets. Now that we’ve filed a federal lawsuit, we are hoping a judge will rule an injunction in our favor that will cease HPD from giving tickets.
Food Not Bombs Houston has asked that people email Mayor Sylvester Turner at [email protected] and express their outrage at their criminalization of volunteers serving the homeless community.
You can also donate to help with the ticketed volunteers’ legal expenses by visiting hpjc.org/membership, then clicking “Restricted Donation to another organization,” specifying “Houston Food Not Bombs,” and donating any amount.