Feeding the homeless? Better have a permit

January 14, 2011 3:27:38 PM PST
A local couple who spent more than a year trying to help feed the homeless has been ordered to stop because they didn't have a permit.

The city says it's not trying to be the bad guy, and they understand the good the couple is trying to do, but it says it's just trying to protect the homeless -- the same people the couple has been trying to help.

Houston has close to 10,000 homeless people. One in five lives on the streets.

Many of them are hungry, and that is why Amanda and Bobby Herring and their friends spent every night for 15 months offering free meals.

"We come out here and provide a hot meal every single night and a lot of love to go with it," Bobby Herring said.

"It's just so much about the relationship," Amanda Herring said. "We love them. They love us. These are our friends; they've been home with us."

They say they fed 50 to 100 people every night of the week -- first at an empty loading dock and then under a bridge. But two weeks ago, they were told to stop.

"We were told that we had to have health permits to continue serving," Amanda Herring said.

The city told them they needed permits and that the food had to be cooked in a certified kitchen.

"We just have one set of rules for public feeding and whether you have money or you don't have money, you need to comply with the same set of rules," said Kathy Barton with the City of Houston Health Department.

The idea being that food not cooked in a certified kitchen could make people sick, which is all the worse for someone who is homeless.

"Low-income people and people who are homeless are the most susceptible to food-borne illness and least capable of dealing with that kind of illness," Barton said.

The Herrings aren't sure what to do. Their meals are cooked in people's homes.

"We're not trying to break any laws. We want to comply with the city. We want to work with the city because we believe this is in addition to the city of Houston," Bobby Herring said.

So until they work something out, they'll be coming downtown empty-handed.

The couple is in talks with the city about the best way to go about serving the homeless people who live downtown and frequent shelters. We do know there's talk about officials discussing a new ordinance that might make it easier for people who are trying to help the homeless without a lot of red tape.