'It's not fair': Group feeding the homeless outside Houston Public Library hit with 29 citations

Mycah Hatfield Image
Thursday, June 1, 2023
'Food Not Bombs' gets hit with 29 citations after feeding the homeless
Food Not Bombs received 29 citations from the city after feeding the homeless outside the Houston Public Library in downtown for more than a decade.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A volunteer group that feeds the homeless does not plan to relocate where they hold their feedings despite receiving 29 citations from police.

"Food Not Bombs" has been serving the homeless population since 1994 in Houston. For about the last 15 years, Shere Dore said volunteers have set up outside the Houston Public Library in downtown.

Four nights a week, they serve vegetarian meals at the corner of McKinney and Smith streets across from City Hall.

On March 1, the volunteer group received its first citation from the City of Houston for violating a city ordinance.

Currently, the volunteers collectively have received 29 citations. Dore has been issued 10 and anticipates getting her 11th at Wednesday night's feeding.

In 2012, a city ordinance was enacted under previous Mayor Annise Parker that made it "unlawful for any organization or individual to sponsor or conduct a food service event on public or private property without the advance written consent of the public or private property owner or other individual with lawful control of the property."

Food Not Bombs does not have a permit to hold their distribution outside the library. They had not been cited previously for violating the ordinance.

"It's not that I'm volunteering to get the ticket," Dore said. "It's just I'm here. I'm going to serve, and if that means I get a ticket for serving the people who are hungry, then I'm willing to do so."

Prior to the first citation, Dore said she received a call from Houston Police Chief Troy Finner letting her know they would be cited if they stayed in that location.

The volunteers assumed the citations were being issued when they were because of the NCAA Final Four games taking place in Houston. They were surprised when they continued after the tournament.

The city provided another location less than half a mile away on Riesner Street that the volunteer group could relocate to. The alternate is outside a Houston police building where the city hosts its "Dinner to Home" program.

Dore said volunteers with Food Not Bombs decided as a group that they would not relocate and would continue to take the tickets from Houston police.

She said the population they serve spends a considerable amount of time at the library during the day to escape the weather and to charge their devices.

They believe moving to an alternate location would prohibit people who are disabled from being able to receive a meal.

Since they started receiving citations, Dore said she has not heard of any other groups that serve the homeless being cited for violating the ordinance.

"The mayor is saying that he's going to continue this process because he wants to take back the public library," Dore said. "We don't serve until 7:30 (p.m.), and this library is already closed by then."

The city issued the following statement:

"Recently, there has been an increase in the number of threats and violent incidents directed at visitors and employees coming to the Houston Public Library downtown. Parents and families have expressed no longer feeling comfortable visiting the library or holding special events. We want the library to serve as a safe, inclusive place for all to come and visit. That's why we are providing a dedicated, alternative charitable food service at 61 Riesner St. This location has the infrastructure and amenities needed to provide services and food to Houstonians in need. By shifting food services to an alternative location, we can maintain the integrity and historic nature of Houston's Public Library while serving all Houstonians with the dignity they deserve."

"I try to remind people quite often, you know, we have criminals that live in homes," Dore said. "We see this on TV every night. For him to push that information about the homeless and the library, it's not fair, and it adds to a stereotype that we just do not like."

Volunteers from Food Not Bombs are starting to have court dates for their citations. At least two have asked for jury trials that are scheduled for July. Dore's court date is Thursday. She plans to plead not guilty and ask for a jury trial.

"So here we are using a lot of time, resources, money, tax money, and stuff like that being used towards this when it's not necessary," Dore said.

The group has also filed a federal lawsuit against the city.

Since Finner reached out to Dore, letting her know they would be cited if they continued outside the library, she said the group has not heard from any city leaders.

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