Changes proposed for food for Houston's homeless

The Houston City Council may make it harder to hand out food to the homeless today.
March 7, 2012 3:27:16 AM PST
Houston Mayor Annise Parker has put forward revisions to an existing city ordinance that would help ensure the food being distributed on Houston's streets to the needy will be safe to eat and available where needed.

The changes would also aim to protect the rights of private property owners who often have to deal with trash and other issues left behind.

"Houston has many benevolent residents who want to give uneaten food away on a street. It's a kind thought, but we need to streamline our food safety standards for everyone to avoid food-borne illnesses," said Mayor Parker. "The changes I'm proposing will help coordinate efforts, and protect private property rights for feeding operations on our streets."

The new ordinance will require organizations and individuals wishing to provide food for the homeless or indigent to:

  • Register with the Houston Health Department and Human Service (HDHHS); there is no charge for registration and it is valid indefinitely or until the organization ceases operations. Registration may be revoked for repeated violations
  • Complete a modified food handlers training course provided at no charge by HDHHS. The training will include safe food handling procedures, ordinance requirements, strategies for working with the homeless and information and referral for health and social services
  • Obtain written permission from the owner/manager of public or private property to serve food
  • Prepare/assemble food in a licensed kitchen (which are readily available throughout the community)
  • Require a plan for clean up of trash following food service.
  • Implementing certain health standards set forth by HDHHS will help ensure food is maintained at an adequate temperature to avoid food poisoning, as well as disclosure of ingredients to avoid allergic reactions.

If these ordinance changes are approved by Houston City Council, the requirements may be enforced by HDHHS and/or HPD. The item is scheduled to be on the March 7 agenda.

Houston has at least 38 organizations known to provide street feeding services. Coordination of the various feeding operations will be handled by the Coalition for the Homeless and the Houston Food Bank. These local organizations will also serve as a point of entry for new organizations wanting to help or for individuals wanting to work with an established operation. Through coordination, excess food in one location or area of the city will be eliminated and more will have access to the meals.


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